Thursday, May 4, 2005

Seniors get pep talks at county Jobs Summit

Staff Writer

Many words of encouragement, wisdom and good ole-fashion advice were passed on to graduating seniors last week at the first ever Education and Jobs Summit in Marshall County.

About 240 seniors from Marshall County, Holly Springs and Marshall Academy attended the half-day forum at the Holly Springs Multi-Purpose Building. Leaders from industry, business, government and education made short presentations about career opportunities and preparation for the job market.

Seniors were advised that they are the future leaders of Marshall County.

“You are the future leaders whether you like it or not,” said Larry Hall, county administrator, in opening remarks.

“Some of my kids are working out of state, but community leaders want youth to be able to find jobs here, if they do not want to leave home.”

He reminded seniors that the economy is not in the best of shape nation-wide.

“But we have to make the best of what we have now,” Hall said.

Alan Barefield, director of the Southern Rural Development Center at Mississippi State University, provided some economic statistics and projections.

He said the economic slump Hall spoke of was turning around and projected that there will be plenty of jobs in the manufacturing, service, real estate, tourism and travel sectors.

New housing permits doubled in Tupelo last year and commercial real estate square footage was up by 250 percent, he said.

Retail sales is a concern due to the price of crude oil and energy. Barefield said energy costs will decline from now to year 2009 and then go back up.

He expects political policies to cause interest rates to stabilize and the economy to grow but funding for social programs, including education, are likely to take cuts. The construction of I-69 and the I-22 corridors is expected to cause a flux in growth between Memphis and surrounding counties like Marshall.

“Marshall County will be a bedroom community to Memphis,” he said.

Barefield’s take home message was that sales in Marshall County are not what they should be due to out-of-county shopping.

“Don’t do that,” he said. “Marshall County residents spend about $1 million in living expenses and very little of it in the county.”

He said this year is one of the best in recent years for college graduates.

“There is a lot of room for growth here and a lot of room to start your own business or work for somebody else,” Barefield said.

Industry Panel
Shareda Jeffries, head of Human Resources with Wal-Mart, gave graduates tips for interviewing and stressed students make a list of short- and long-term goals and post it in a prominent place in their room.

During the interview process, Wal-Mart looks for neat and clean applicants with good communication skills.

“Show professionalism during the interview,” she said.

The company wants friendly, self-starting employees who can take discipline or coaching during the training process, she said.

Cecelia Bost, MSRN with Alliance HealthCare System, said a 21 percent growth in the healthcare profession is expected in the next 10 years. The healthcare field offers opportunities for those with associate, bachelor’s, master’s and professional degrees and a variety of career choices.

Martha Thomas, retired FedEx employee, spoke of the many companies and variety of jobs at FedEx. The corporation looks for honest, dependable, alcohol- and drug-free hires who are at work on time, work hard and are committed, she said.

Workers are offered tuition refund assistance while they work. Since FedEx hires from within the company first, there is maximum opportunity for personal development, she said, citing examples of employees who started out part-time and became top company executives.

There are 20,000 FedEx employees in the Memphis area.

Scott Beggs, with American Pacific, encouraged seniors to go to college, saying they would get “gargantuan returns for getting an education.”

He warned of the global competition for jobs, but said Americans have more prosperity than any other people.

“The U.S. is the richest country on earth in opportunity and mobility,” he said. “You are in the most fertile soil on earth. But that’s changing and will continue to accelerate at a rate that will astound you.”

He cited figures that show China and India are outstripping the U.S. in turning out college graduates.

“You do and certainly will compete with people who live in those countries,” he said.

Being U.S. born won’t always be a guarantee of prosperity, he said.

“Now the cards won’t be stacked in your favor, but this will be the greatest time to be an entrepreneur,” Beggs said.

He encouraged students to find a mentor, research and study interests on the Internet, if need be, and to “read voraciously.”

Education Panel
David Haraway, outgoing president of Northwest Community College, listed the many opportunities for educational advancement and career training with the college via the main campus, satellite campuses, and partnerships with industries and government in Marshall County.

He said 824 individuals received workforce training in Marshall County last year. The college also provides important adult basic education classes in most communities in its service region.

Last fall, 395 Marshall County residents enrolled with Northwest.

“You can be assured with the education you receive at Northwest, employers will recognize that as the highest quality,” said Gary Spears, president-elect. “We are there to give you an opportunity for jobs.”

Rust College’s academic dean, Marion Tally, advised seniors to use time well and to dream well.

She said many students are using their dream maker to grow as weeds.

“Too many students go to school and never get an education,” she said. “They make pasta rather than the real thing.”

She also warned them against worldliness.

“You need to understand - what you wear makes no difference, if there’s nothing in your head,” she said. “The low places in life have many people with high I.Q.s who are not motivated to do better.”

Socioeconomic status is only a factor in learning when a person’s attitude allows it to be, she said.

“My challenge is to get you to know yourself and what is within you,” she told seniors. “Plan your study and work your plan.”

Drawing from personal experience, Tally said her mother made a place for study in the home by hanging a sheet in a portion of a room. She advised students to find a place at home to study and to go there.

“And get a job,” she said. “Be sure you have something to do, even if it is at home.

Ken Robinson, director of the information technology center in Holly Springs, used the theme “coming home,” to drive home his points of how to overcome low self esteem.

“I believe in you, because I am one of you,” he said.

Robinson said an embarrassment in third grade set him on a course of low self esteem, but he used the memory to motivate himself.

After graduating in engineering at Mississippi State, Robinson went to work in the technology sector, a job that kept him in the air from city to city for months at a time.

He said he came home to Holly Springs to promote technology and careers here so the next generation would have the best of two worlds - good careers and a home.

With innovation in technology expanding at nearly an exponential rate, Robinson told seniors technology is not something an individual “can just idly catch up with.”

Robinson cautioned seniors not to make technology their god.

“Technology is what you make it,” he said. “It does not make a person. God, Himself, made people. First off, if you want to be committed to something, be committed to God. You will understand what respect means. Don’t be jelling up (jealous) about others who are successful at making a buck.

“One day you will be us. Grab hold of the ring and never let go.”

Vision Panel
Educator and Marshall County Supervisor Eddie Dixon said it is necessary that more jobs be created in Marshall County. Today, 75 percent of the workforce commutes outside the county to work, he said.

“Until we can employ 50 percent, we are going to be left behind,” he said. His personal vision for the county also included paving all county roads in four years and improving education and law enforcement.

School board member Terry Rodgers said his vision for the county is to get schools to a Level 5 - that population growth is coming as it did to DeSoto County.

“Get an education and come back and make this county what you want it to be,” he said.

Local businessman Harvey Payne said he looks at the City of Holly Springs the same way he looks at a business.

“The number one rule is if you don’t take care of your customers, somebody else will,” he said.

”We all seek success,” he added. “If we want to be successful in this world, we have to think intelligently, learn and enjoy life.”

Judy Smith, superintendent of Holly Springs Public Schools, told seniors that economic development and education go hand in hand. Her vision is that all schools aim for excellence ratings.

She said school levels are a reflection of the school, parents, students, job availability and the community itself.

“So, a Level 5 school has Level 5 students, Level 5 parents, and supports Level 5 jobs,” said Smith.

She talked about vision and virtues in life that she said includes churches, schools, the community. She said schools have to have some help.

“We can’t do it alone,” Smith said. “We need all of you to establish leadership programs to bring all children of the county together.”

Speaking of some county schools, Smith said, “We’re beating them on the court; they’re beating us in the classroom. Our graduation rate is good; theirs is not. It’s a healthy competition.

“The vision is for a Level 5 village. We are a community for the entire community of Marshall County.”

Smith’s vision also included nexus, a word she said describes what the community would look like at a Level 5.

“Ultimately, the whole opportunity for economic growth and education would come together,” she said, “if we all had a vision for these children. It means the community has to become a part of education, not just in words, but in deeds.”

Cedric Stevens, an intern with the Holly Springs School District, sided with the students “sitting in those seats with your head down being preached to.”

From a student’s perspective, they ask what there is to stay in the community for, he said.

“The successful communities are the integrated schools,” he said. “There’s a problem here. Those schools who are successful, like Oxford and Tupelo, are completely integrated.”

He said students strive only to go beyond what their leaders are doing.

“We need to break the cycle,” he said. “Most students who are going away are not here because jobs are not here.

“My challenge goes out to the community and the adults,” he said. “Not the youngsters.”

Keynote speaker
Vaughn Grisham, with the McLean Institute at Ole Miss, said the work of rebuilding a community is done best by those who live there. He reviewed the economy of the state, once largely agricultural/rural, then becoming industrialized both in agriculture and adding manufacturing jobs.

Those jobs have dwindled in the present economy, he said. Vaughn believes the jobs of the future will be in the knowledge industry and he said schools need to prepare students for those jobs.

He cited an example where a community in an economically depressed neighborhood in Dallas built a school where students scored on average in the 90th percentile.

The parents and community are involved and must be involved to do that, he said.

Sponsors and individuals who contributed money or other goods for the summit included the banks of Holly Springs - Citizens Bank, First State Bank, Merchants & Farmers Bank, and the Bank of Holly Springs and its Potts Camp Branch - Shane Strickland and Wal-Mart. Others who helped set up the building were Janet Jolley and Lemon Phelps with the Mississippi State Extension Service, Kenneth McMullin, director of parks and recreation for the City of Holly Springs, and Bill Dawson, summit committee chairperson.

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