BY BRIAN JONES
At a May 23 meeting, the Clay County Board of Supervisors heard a plea for more funding from East Mississippi Community College and appointed an election commissioner for District 4.
Several officials from EMCC came before the board to ask for an additional mill of funding from Clay County. The school must expand to meet growing needs, and is calling on its supporting counties for help.
EMCC VP for Workforce and Community Services Raj Shaunak was the first to speak.
“On January 29, 2007, we all learned that our flagship business here was shutting down,” Shaunak said. “There was a lot of tribulation, a lot of pensive people. We had a meeting of the senior staff that afternoon, and [President Rick Young] charged us to spare no resources in helping this community. We worked with the individuals who were affected, and we held many meetings with the displaced to talk about opportunities in that dark night. That darkness stayed here for a long time. About two years ago we met with some of you, and you took a brave step. Lo and behold the sun is shining again.
“For us to be competitive, you have to have the right infrastructure, you have to be innovative and you have to have the talent,” he said. “Now that we have this victory it falls on us to serve the community and train and education people for the opportunities that lie ahead. In order produce 450 people for those positions at [Yokohama] we are probably going to need to train around 3,000. We have 18 months to have a workforce ready to take those opportunities. In order to meet the need after Sara Lee we built the facility out at the TVA center, but now I think we’re going to have to serve people from all over out at the Golden Triangle campus, and we’re going to be running from 6 in the morning until 11 at night just to meet that initial demand. We need your help.”
“We’re on the cusp of some opportunities we’ve never had before in this area,” said EMCC President Rick Young. “Everything pretty much comes through some kind of educational process. EMCC is committed to grow this area, but there is a big transition going on in the workforce nationally. These industries are looking at national skill standards, and we have come to the conclusion that we need to do something different in our industrial tech. We have a lot to do. We have more jobs available or coming available than we’ve ever had.
“We have three sources of funding,” Young said. “The state gives us funding based on enrollment. That itself is a moving target. The number of students finishing high school is stagnant, it may even be decreasing a little bit. The student base is there, but it’s not growing like it was in the past. We are funded by full-time enrollment. The second is through tuition and fees. We are as expensive as any community college in the state. You say that’s not good for the students, but we’ve got the tuition guarantee program. The third source is county funding. That’s a critical component. When it comes to county funding, we’re at the bottom of the list compared with the other community colleges.”
The college’s needs include a student union/multipurpose building, a female dorm and band facilities, Young said.
“We want to build capacity,” explained VP Paul Miller. “We’re going to be training at both campuses daylight to dark to do what we need to for Yokohama, as well as other companies we want to attract and retain for this area. We have a 25-year master plan for our two main campuses. At the Golden Triangle campus, our first effort is the student union. We are serving 4,000 students at that campus. In order to support our plans for growth, we have got to have this infrastructure. We are going to be running from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m., and we have to have the amenities to support that. We are working on that, and we are going to go to bid on this project in the fall. We want your help with that.”
The opening date is September 2015, he said.
“If we do well with phase one at Yokohama, there is going to be a phase two, and that will require training that is over and above what we’re doing now,” he said. “We have got to be prepared for that.” Young said EMCC is asking for another mill to be added to the levy.
“I’m looking at $32 million in capital improvements,” Young said. “The note retirement is about 25 years. I’m asking each county to give us an additional mill. That will enable us to proceed with this. The money you invest here you will see right off at the Mayhew campus. We can maintain as we are, but we have stretched about as far as we can stretch. But if we are going to be the very best, we’re going to take more support. We need all the counties to step up.”
Young said that about 1,100 students come from Clay County currently.
District 2 Supervisor Luke Lummus asked to make a motion to give the additional funding, but District 4 Supervisor and Board President Shelton Deanes asked him to wait.
“Let’s wait and see what the other counties are going to do,” Deanes said.
No action was taken.
Deanes made a motion to appoint Sewana Walker to the election commission.
Earlier this month District 4 Election Commissioner Wendy Fuller was vacated from office after she failed to complete mandatory training. Walker will temporarily take the post until November, when an election will be held to fill the office full-time.
“There were several other people who wanted this appointment, and I recommend that you all file your papers to run in November,” Lummus said.
Spencer Broocks from the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District reported that construction is proceeding on one of the county’s Home Project houses, but no progress has been made on the second.
Major Construction was awarded three contracts in Clay County. Earlier this year Major gave up one of those to Avant Construction, which was the next lowest bidder, because Major did not feel they would be able to complete it on time. In April Broocks and GTPDD Housing Specialist Patsy Patterson came to the board and said that little to no progress had been made on the two remaining houses, and the 120 days allotted for construction had nearly passed. Representatives from Major said they had been delayed by inclement weather.
Thursday Broocks reported that progress had been made on one of the homes, but not the other. The board instructed him to contact Avant Construction – who was also the next lowest bidder on this project – and see if they would honor their original bid amount.