City may reap EADS benefits

Published 10:35 am Monday, July 20, 2009

By By Kerry Whipple Bean
Atmore should expect to be considered for suppliers should the EADS project finally land in Mobile, a workforce development expert told county commissioners last week.
EADS has partnered with Northrup Grumman to try to land a contract to build tankers for the U.S. Air Force, but its awarding of the contract was nullified last year after rival Boeing filed an appeal.
Both companies are now vying for the contract again, and some in Congress have suggested they could split the contract.
With steelmaker ThyssenKrupp having announced its plans to build a massive plant in north Mobile County and new business for Austal, the Mobile area will have “tapped out” its workforce, Etheridge said.
Etheridge met with commissioners last week to thank them for their support of the workforce development council.
Southwest Alabama’s council — which includes Escambia, Conecuh, Baldwin, Washington, Monroe, Mobile, Clarke and Choctaw counties — is the only workforce development council that has a paid staff, Etheridge said.
Escambia and other counties in the region pay 25 cents per resident — so just under $10,000 for Escambia County — to help fund the council’s work.
One of the early learning tools the region has implemented is a coloring book for kindergartners. Instead of showing pictures of nurses or doctors, the coloring book shows workers such as welders and electricians, so that even the youngest students see a variety of choices — and see the jobs that will be needed in south Alabama.
Another program sent volunteers into schools last spring to present a message that jobs available in south Alabama are “cool.”
Commissioner Brandon Smith said exposing young students to such possibilities is a good idea.
Etheridge noted that Austal in Mobile is planning to hire 100 welders every month for the next 15 months. Officials at the company contacted him to find out how they could find those resources.
Etheridge put together company officials with community college leaders and welding instructors who were able to develop relationships that will help fill those jobs.
The workforce development council is also seeking grants to help develop more welding programs for the area, especially because those are the kinds of jobs that will be needed at TK and at EADS if that project is approved.

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