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Elite Work-Force Development Programs Draw Industries - and Jobs

Companies that take advantage of customized work-force development programs across the South have found success.

Feb/Mar 10
When it comes to expansion or relocation, companies demand quicker decisions, quicker results, and innovative cooperation from regional and state agencies. It's not just about getting tax credits anymore. A state's willingness to really understand a company's needs, develop and deliver customized solutions, and stand ready as a long-term work-force development partner is a huge plus in attracting corporate investment.

The cost of hiring, training, and maintaining a quality work force is one of business' most expensive and complex operational components. States that freely relieve companies of these burdens have a strong recruitment advantage over states that don't - even over those states that may dangle fatter financial incentive packages. The bottom line? States that provide complete work-force development packages for free are landing big deals.

An Example
Gardner Denver Thomas Inc., an Illinois-based manufacturer of vacuum pumps and air compressors, is reducing costs through consolidation. Originally the company planned to shut down its 76-person plant in Monroe, Louisiana, and transfer that work to its larger operation in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Louisiana quickly countered with an offer that included a one-stop, no-cost work-force development program. The company reversed course and instead shut down the Sheboygan plant and consolidated operations in Monroe, creating over 200 new jobs in that city.

One of the jewels in the Louisiana incentive package that caught the eye of Gardner Denver Thomas was FastStart, a new work-force training department created by the state of Louisiana. FastStart provides a highly skilled team to "assess the true training needs of the corporation and develop and deliver a multiphase customized training program, including pre-employment screening," says Jeff Lynn, executive director of the FastStart program.

"The relocation of our operation from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to Louisiana has been progressing exceptionally well, in part due to the training support provided by the state of Louisiana's FastStart program," says Barry Pennypacker, president and CEO of Gardner Denver Thomas. "Despite the reduction in revenue this business experienced in 2009 as a result of the partial relocation, we saw 300 basis points of improvement in operating margin as a percentage of revenues between March and September 2009."

FastStart is especially keen on attracting manufacturing operations and corporate headquarters to Louisiana. "One of the things that sets us apart from other state work-force development programs is that we have skilled personnel who not only create the customized work-force solutions, but deliver them as well," says Lynn. "Assistance from many states is grant-based - handing out money that companies can use to offset the cost of their work-force development. But most companies don't have in-house expertise to use this funding effectively. They need someone to take over so they can concentrate on running the company - and that's what we do. By working so closely with them to develop a work-force solution that will guarantee their success, we build a trust and friendship that carries on as their operations develop over the years."

Although a lot of states implement work-force training through their community and technical college systems, FastStart also taps into four-year colleges and universities across the state, bringing more expertise across more industries (such as multimedia).

Setting the Standard
Before coming to Louisiana to develop FastStart, Jeff Lynn was director of regional project operations for Georgia's Quick Start program. Founded in 1967, Quick Start has provided customized work-force training free-of-charge to qualified businesses for more than four decades. Quick Start has long been considered the model upon which other programs (such as FastStart) are based. Quick Start provides strategic work-force consultation, pre-employment assessment and selection, customized post-employment and job-specific training, and leadership and professional development training that are integrated within the Technical College System of Georgia. Work-force training is delivered wherever and whenever the company needs it, whether it is in a classroom, mobile lab, or on the plant floor.  
Quick Start continues to be a national leader - last year Georgia was ranked first in the nation for work-force development by CNBC. It delivered 223 customized work-force training projects in FY2009, which helped create or save nearly 16,000 jobs (about $477.5 million in payroll revenue to the state of Georgia).

"The main factor that makes Quick Start unique is the combination of the broad scope of industries we work with and the depth of our expertise in those fields," says Quick Start director Rodger Brown. "This is in part due to Quick Start's longevity and our focus on continually responding to changing industry needs. We have long-time relationships with business and industries [whose leaders] serve on advisory boards that help us address existing needs and anticipate future developments."

In June 2009, NCR announced it would build its new global headquarters and a new ATM manufacturing facility in Georgia, creating 3,000 jobs. Within days, a Quick Start team flew to Hungary to conduct the initial project study at NCR's manufacturing plant in Budapest. Quick Start's multimedia designers and software programmers have already produced web-based training modules for NCR's consumer help-desk and systems support team trainees. A pre-employment assessment process has also been initiated. "We studied their processes, talked regularly with the NCR team, and worked closely with the Georgia Department of Labor here in Columbus to get the training started," says Sean McMillan, Quick Start's director of western regional operations.

"This is a major operation," adds Rick Marquardt, NCR vice president of global manufacturing. "We're looking at the same challenges any start-up faces, but this is a very strong team and we're off to a great start."

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