MERIDIAN — “The paradigm of get a job and we will train you is gone,” says Louisville’s Lex Taylor. He is talking to a large multi-county group of business, education, and government leaders at the The Dome, Louisville’s new community safe room.

Understand that Taylor is no common businessman. He is the third-generation leader of one of Mississippi’s great rural industry successes.

In 1927, W.A. Taylor Sr. opened a small family-owned automotive and repair business in Louisville. In 1937, he produced his first conventional timber skidder, then pioneered a mobile skidder and loader called the “Logger’s Dream.” The 1950s brought the development of “Yardster” forklift trucks. A line of pulpwood-handling equipment, including the “Pulpwood Dream,” followed. By the early 1970s, Taylor Machine Works, under the second-generation leadership of W.A. “Bill” Taylor Jr., had developed one of the most advanced machine shops in the South with heavy investments in modern machine tools. New products included a complete line of heavy duty trailers (for transporting gravel, soil, etc.), numerous agricultural implements, reforestation equipment, log loaders and other specialized machines.

Today, under the third-generation leadership of Lex and his brother Robert, Taylor Machine Works is now one division in the Taylor Group of Industries Inc. that includes national defense product, power system, logistics, leasing and rental, and “sudden service” divisions. The company has operations in Alabama, Florida, Texas, Wyoming and multiple locations in Mississippi and is a major player worldwide in materials-handling equipment.

“Taylor competes on a world stage, now, with its products and services, and like all businesses here and in our surrounding areas, we need a pool of trained, ready-to-work labor,” says Taylor, “workers that with minor orientation on the job can be productive day one.”

That was the purpose of the meeting in Louisville, to kick off and promote a four-county initiative to begin building pools of ready-to-work labor.

Rural counties Choctaw, Kemper, Webster and Winston banded together to pursue and win a competitive POWER grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. The objective of this project is to begin to build local labor pools at the high school level, then to establish community-based access to fundamental skills training oriented to the needs of local industry within each county.

Driving the project were the local economic developers from the four counties. Key partners were community colleges to provide training and testing services; high schools to provide the students; career and technology centers to provide training sites; and the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District to handle fiscal matters.

This is a beginning, but Taylor hopes for more. He wants to put work skills and soft skills education into school curricula beginning in the eighth grade.

“Workforce development is now, more than ever, one of the most critical tools in driving the American economy to the greatness it once commanded,” he says. “Skills training is the answer.”

As an industry leader who competes successfully worldwide, Taylor seems like someone we should listen to.

Bill Crawford is a Republican former state lawmaker from Meridian.

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