EMCC holds grand opening for Communiversity

EMCC President Scott Alsobrooks, center, greets attendees at the grand opening event (Courtesy photo)
Daily Times Leader

A dedication ceremony was held Friday for one of the most highly-anticipated training and workforce development projects in Mississippi: The $42 million Communiversity.

The facility has been in operation since the beginning of East Mississippi Community College’s school year, with the majority of EMCC’s career and technical programs now being located at the facility. The facility also has space for incoming industry to land while they set up more permanent facilities locally. It was funded with a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission, bonds from the state of Mississippi and funds from the three Golden Triangle counties.

Speakers at the event included Mississippi Republican Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Tate Reeves, Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas, Lowndes County Board of Supervisors President Harry Sanders and Communiversity Advisory Board Chairman Ben Machen.

EMCC Board of Trustees Chair Kathy Dyess gave an invocation, while the EMCC Concert Choir sang the National Anthem and the West Lowndes High School Air Force JROTC Color Guard presented the Colors.

In his address, Thomas discussed the impact of industry on the Appalachian Region, which includes the Golden Triangle and 21 other counties in northeast Mississippi.

“This facility will see thousands of students pass through it for years to come and will give those students the opportunity to learn world-class, cutting-edge skills and techniques in various technical curricula that will provide degrees and certifications that will qualify those students for high-paying jobs in growing industries,” Thomas said.

He cited a study from the U.S. Department of Labor that showed that four of the five fastest-growing job categories required more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree.
“EMCC students are poised to enter those in-demand fields,” Thomas said.

He said the state was continuing to strengthen its manufacturing capabilities.

“There has emerged in the last several years in the United States a manufacturing corridor in the automotive and aerospace industries, and this corridor spans across several southern states including Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina,” Thomas said. “Speaking broadly, Southern Appalachia today is an advanced manufacturing powerhouse.”

Reeves said the state of Mississippi stood at a point where it could become more competitive in manufacturing with neighboring states.

“Not only can we be competitive with neighboring states, but if this facility is done right and if we can mirror it in other parts of our state, we can not only be competitive, we can win,” Reeves said. “We can win big, and we can win consistently at recruiting business and industry into our state.”

He spoke to past manufacturing success in the Golden Triangle and said he believed the area had reached a point where it could go to the next level.

“We can take it to the next level and compete with anyone anywhere in the world,” Reeves said. “To do so, we must be committed to career and technical education. We must be committed to workforce development and workforce training.”
The facility has met EMCC’s initial goal of 200 students. However, the college needs to double enrollment at the Communiversity to meet the demands of local industry.

The grand opening also comes while EMCC is fighting declining enrollment and various financial woes. The college has had to dip into its reserves to the tune of $1.8 million to fund the facility initially.

At a previous event, Alsobrooks said the deficit created would be covered by the college’s fund balance.

He said the college would recruit students for the Communiversity along several fronts including in area plants, within EMCC and among those without degrees.

“There’s also that non-traditional population that we’re going to recruit heavily from to come in and get that credential and get a good paying job in industry,” Alsobrooks said.

Additionally, he said the college had interviewed three candidates for the currently vacant Communiversity director position.

Machen spoke to the relationships between EMCC and local industry, particularly PACCAR, where he serves as assistant plant manager.

“For either entity to succeed, they both must support each other,” Machen said. “They both must complement each other. The Communiversity is the ultimate expression of that partnership.”

Sanders thanked all three of the counties for their role in the Communiversity, calling the facility one of the best examples of community partnership he has seen.

“The future of the Golden Triangle lies in this building, and the future of my state lies in the workforce,“ Sanders said.