Angela Curry says the first question she is asked by companies considering Greenwood as a new location is: Do you have a qualified workforce?

It was a question that in the past has proven difficult for the executive director of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation to answer.

“We knew that we had people who could work, but we could not give them a number,” Curry said.  “We could not validate or say how many people are already trained or career-ready.”

The foundation and its partners are in the process of being able to provide those figures.

That was one of the nuggets shared by a panel presentation of local community and economic developers during the Mississippi Economic Council’s tour stop Wednesday in Greenwood.

The state’s chamber of commerce is holding a series of meetings around the state to provide updates on its initiatives and solicit feedback from local business and professional leaders.

Workforce issues have risen as a major concern, as evidenced by the poll results from several of the questions posed Wednesday by Scott Waller, MEC’s interim president and CEO.

Asked what’s the top factor for improving and creating a robust economy, 75 percent of the audience responded “more skilled workers.”

Asked how prepared they felt the current workforce was to meet businesses’ needs, 65 percent said somewhat prepared, and 29 percent said not at all.

Greenwood and Leflore County are addressing these concerns by moving toward certification as a “work ready” community, Curry said.

As part of a Delta Council initiative, the Economic Development Foundation and the Greenwood-Leflore County Chamber of Commerce have been urging companies and schools to require current and prospective employees to take a workplace skills test prepared by ACT, the company best known for its college entrance tests. The workplace skills exam tests a person’s ability in reading for information, basic mathematics and locating information.

Curry said the certificate that is earned after taking the exam is becoming a standard gauge for a potential employee’s skill level — and the push to make its use widespread in Greenwood will help with recruiting efforts.

“Not only can we say we have quality workers, but we can say that we have X number of people who are career-ready,” Curry said.

Other members of the panel included  Greenwood Mayor Carolyn McAdams, chamber Executive Director Beth Stevens and Todd Donald, vice president of workforce and economic development for Mississippi Delta Community College.

McAdams highlighted the numerous infrastructure improvements that the city has completed in recent years: a new wastewater treatment plant, the renovated police station, Rail Spike Park and streetscapes on Main, Howard and Johnson streets.

“Businesses do not want to come to our city if they do not see that we are taking care of our city and of our infrastructure,” McAdams said.

Stevens said the chamber was focusing on what the organization has done for the last 100 years — community improvement, stimulating the economy and  providing good infrastructure.

Donald said that while a major topic of discussion in the state has been addressing its deteriorating roads and bridges, another transportation hurdle to economic development is being overlooked: the difficulty that many low-income workers have getting to a potential job because they may not have a driver’s license or own a vehicle.

Derek Hinckley, Greenwood’s recycling coordinator who attended the MEC meeting, said Donald’s point stuck out.

“It wasn’t something that I had considered before of being an issue of getting our workforce home and to the workplace,” he said.

Danielle Morgan, executive director of the Greenwood Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she was impressed by the panel’s presentation.

“I think it is great that other people have noticed that we have created an environment that people want to live in, work and visit. That really speaks to prospective developers and businesses,” she said.

nContact Lauren Randall at 581-7239 or lrandall@gwcommonwealth.com.

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