Steps to create an educated and qualified workforce in Clark County and the surrounding communities have been taken by a group of local economic and educational entities.

Steps to create an educated and qualified workforce in Clark County and the surrounding communities have been taken by a group of local economic and educational entities.
According to Shelley Loe, executive vice-president of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce, the chamber office and a group with the Alliance have met with representatives from regional school districts, Henderson State University, College of the Ouachitas and the University of Arkansas at Monticello to address the educational needs of Sun Bio.
“Out of the meeting, we came up with educational opportunities from high school to two-year to four-year for Sun Bio to review,” said Loe.
According to Loe, Sun Bio has provided a list of positions that will be open at the local plant site.
The positions include general labor, production technicians (entry level and advanced), production supervisor, quality assurance technician (entry level and advanced), maintenance positions, computer networking, finance and accounting, general management, logger and truck driving.
“Because of his background in education, Dr. Brett Powell at Henderson was able to put the list of jobs in a format that actually breaks down the type of education, the skills needed and who the educational partner will be,” said Loe.
Depending on the job, applicants will be required to have either a high school diploma, technical certificate, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree.
In addition, Loe said Dawson Education Cooperative has been included to insure everyone is on the same page in regards to education needs.
Plans are in the works to include the National Apprenticeship Training Foundation to arrange apprenticeship programming for not only Sun Bio, but for other companies in the region.
“In talking to local employers and with economic developers in the region, we are finding that everyone is having a problem finding the workforce,” said Loe.
While a low unemployment rate is a plus on one hand, on the other hand, Loe said it creates a problem when employers are trying to find qualified workers.
According to Loe, the initial purpose of the workforce training was to assist Sun Bio in obtaining a qualified workforce need for its Clark County mill.
“Because of multiple entities being involved in this, we found out we have a workforce opportunity now with our existing businesses and industries that I think is getting addressed by multiple agencies,” said Loe.
The lack of an educated workforce is not limited to Arkadelphia and the surrounding communities and counties.
Citing her recent attendance to a conference pertaining to economic development, Loe said the problem regarding workforce training was the overall topic.
“It’s not just us. This is a national issue where jobs are not being filled,” said Loe.
As a consequence, Loe said Arkadelphia and Clark County is not only competing with neighboring communities to fill jobs, but with communities across the country.
“Everyone is having the issue of where they need an educated workforce,” Loe said.
The goal of the Alliance and Chamber is to bring all of the entities together to help streamline the process.
Loe noted that Arkadelphia High School Principal David Maxwell is planning the Southwest Arkansas Industry Manufacturing Fair for Sept. 27-28.
The purpose of the event is to show the career opportunities created by manufacturing jobs and the relevance of manufacturing jobs. Area schools and universities will be present and area industries are encouraged to participate.
According to Loe, multiple meetings have taken place with representatives from logging industries and area educational entities to change the curriculum to incorporate the needs of the logging community.
“I feel like the logging companies that have engaged in this feel like the educators are heading in the right direction of what they need in terms of workforce,” said Loe.
On the flip side, Loe said there are still significant issues with insurance requirements for truck drivers and equipment operators.
“If you want to drive a truck or if you want to be on a piece of equipment, you have to be a certain age or have X amount of experience,” Loe explained.
According to Loe, it is difficult to insure truck drivers who are coming straight out of high school.
“Even if you went and got a CDL, which you can do through the College of the Ouachitas, you have to be a minimum of 21 to be able to drive. In many cases, you have to have at least two to three years experience for their insurance to cover you,” said Loe.
With the reopening of the mill in Glenwood coupled with the needs that will be created through the opening of the Sun Bio mill, Loe said there will be a huge need for truck drivers and equipment operators.
“We are working to meet with people from the insurance commission to help us to see if there are opportunities. We understand that it is dangerous, but we have got to figure out some compromise because we have jobs coming in the next few years and we won’t have the people to fill them,” Loe said.
Stephen Bell, president/CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance and Area Chamber of Commerce, noted Alliance chairman Eric Hughes recently worked with the local Reuse Committee to secure funding to purchase training equipment for area students.
“The committee oversees leftover funds from a 1983 program of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission,” said Bell.
The committee approved a $67,000 grant for Gurdon to purchase three logging simulators and another $67,000 grant for Arkadelphia to purchase a FAUNUC robot. The robots are in use at Danfoss and W.P. Malone, Inc.
The Cabe Foundation also contributed funds to the Gurdon School District to help purchase the simulators.
Overall, Loe said she is satisfied with the progress the different entities have made in addressing workforce needs.
“What has been excellent is the partnerships,” said Loe, who added that everyone has been willing to do their part to address the concerns in the region.