Neosho is working through many avenues to become a community better prepared for an emerging work force.

Becoming a ‘Work Ready’ community was the underlying theme during Tuesday’s quarterly meeting of the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Committee.

Edward Stephens, associate vice president of career and technical education, Crowder College, reported that the Neosho-based school is now closing on 48 customized training grants totaling $14.9 million in a nine county region. Crowder is the second largest holder of such grants in the region behind only St. Louis.

Stephens said Crowder is also rewriting grants for many new industries that have come on board.

“Mainly because OSHA training is now eligible for customized training, which will save a huge expense to the different companies in the region that are eligible and want to apply for that,” Stephens said.

He said they are also closing about 10 grants on new jobs and retention of jobs.
“When you hear a new line is coming in, we can help those companies attain money for that equipment and also to train individuals going into that new line,” he said.

Stephens said he is very confident that Crowder will receive a large Trade Assistance Grant for people who lost jobs to a foreign country. Focusing on transportation and logistics, he feels that will attract people into this region to work and live, “because we have one of the best transportation and truck driving programs in the country.”

Stephens said there are some high-skilled jobs out there for which the school cannot train enough workers.

“Especially in the high-end steel welding arena, or pharmaceutical welding, building different tanks and stainless steel containers — that’s a pretty high level of expertise in welding, and we’re trying to gear up a little harder on that so we can get a few more guys through,” he said. “And we’re also using our customized training units to help people that are currently in the jobs to get better at that.”

He said his dream is to have a welding institute similar to the Tulsa Institute of Welding, which, he said, will “create a huge service for this region.”

Stephens said they also can’t train enough diesel mechanics, drivers nor construction workers. John Branham, owner, Branco Enterprises, concurred.

“There are some well paying jobs out there and we can’t attract enough people to train to be competent to do those jobs,” Branham said.

Stephens said Crowder is doing its part as Neosho evolves into a Work Key community. He said most jobs in the country have been profiled by the ACT and all seniors in the tech school are required to take the ACT Work Keys test. Scoring silver, gold or platinum, he explained, “A company might come into the region saying, ‘We need 25 people that have a silver on the ACT Work Keys. We need 50 that might have gold.’”

Once that data is recorded, Stephens said the entity that is recruiting that company can show them that type of workforce is available to them here.

“That’s when it becomes very valuable,” he said.

Dan Decker, superintendent of Neosho R-5 schools, reported that the Work Keys test is becoming a part of the curriculum under MSIP5. Stephens said ACT has gotten more aggressive with this.

“Because they realize that about 50 percent of the kids don’t really necessarily go on to college, they go into the workforce, and they realized we needed to certify that workforce and what the kids’ abilities are,” he said.

Decker also announced that the school district is beginning an associate’s program with Crowder for high school juniors and seniors to be able to attain their associate’s degree as they receive their high school diploma.

Stephens said this region is primed, as Logistics Magazine reported the logistics within the 75-mile radius Joplin region “was primed for anyone who either wanted to start a new manufacturing business or to expand a manufacturing business, because mainly of our rails, positioning of the airports that we have, positioning of our interstates; and also the number of semi and truck carriers we have in the region. That compares us to Louisville,” he concluded, “which is big!”

Helping Neosho become a Work Ready community, Howard Birdsong, consultant, is forging a workforce employer partnership.

“It is a relationship between educators and employers and people who are entering the workforce,” Birdsong said. “It’s to help identify needed skills for the future, and then seeing that kids are prepared to do it. The testing that’s done, it helps identify those skill levels, and those areas that may need to be improved, but it’s a foundation for future specific skills training.”

He said that will be used as an economic development tool to recruit new businesses and help take care of existing businesses by providing a skilled work force.

Birdsong said the Work Keys test, now part of the school curriculum, is similar to what college-bound students would encounter with the SAT or ACT, and “helps provide kids with certificates in skills trained jobs.” He said it’s a collaborative effort through the Workforce Investment Board, state career centers, local high schools, community colleges, employers, and on-the-job training in various programs.

To become a certified Work Ready community, Birdsong said goals must be reached in the testing, “through transitional workers and emerging workers that will satisfy the ACT criteria. Then the other part is to have employer endorsement that says, ‘It’s a good idea,’ they think we need to have a workforce with skills that match their need.”

He said a steering committee of city and county government, economic development officials and private enterprise has helped steer this process over the past year. Birdsong said the committee needs 65 area employers to endorse the effort to match jobs with kids and transitional workers, which will in turn be used as a tool to recruit new business. He said he has 35 of those commitments, and is reaching out to employers in the community to attain another 30.

Mike Franks, executive director, economic development, Neosho Area Business and Industrial Foundation, Inc., (NABIFI) announced that La-Z Boy is looking to expand.

“The availability of quality labor will influence their decision. They will need to train up employees,” Franks said. “They would attract new people to the area.”
Franks stated that new housing will be in our future as new people are attracted to higher skilled jobs that will become available

He said NABIFI will lead a coalition of all area schools to create dual entry into the workplace with Crowder and area school districts.

“We need to help our industries, and need to help our kids receive the skills they need,” Franks said.

He said the availability and skill set of the workforce is what leads to prosperity.

Franks reported positive retail activity for Neosho as the Bella Roma Italian restaurant, with two locations in Oklahoma including at Grove, will soon open in the Boulevard Shopping Center. Franks said a Mexican Way restaurant is going in near Oriental House, and groundwork is underway for the Love’s Travel Stop that will locate on Missouri Highway 86 at Interstate 49.

He reported that Poore’s Auto Salvage will build an auto parts facility on Industrial Drive, and is working on getting the building permit, with the hope of opening in 90 days. Franks said Poore’s plans to build three other locations in the area.

Alan Cook, Newton County commissioner, stated that the final report for the Joint Land Use Study for Camp Crowder, which will be released Monday, will contain recommendations for ensuring no future land use conflicts in areas surrounding the camp.

Franks said a military zoning area could be maintained in the area of the county that adjoins Camp Crowder where the loudest noises are generated. He said that would not restrict land use, and would only disallow high-density housing in that area.

Franks said the military wants to be a good neighbor and added that a transformation of the military could provide an expanded role for the National Guard. He said cooperating with the military in this regard could set up Camp Crowder to become a premiere National Guard camp in the country. Franks said that by ensuring that future land uses don’t conflict with training at the base, “We would tell them we value your mission and want you here.”