Despite a catastrophic tornado that swept through its largest city nearly two years ago, Jasper County, Missouri, has grown its workforce to become the first county participating in the national ACT Certified Work Ready Communities (CWRC) initiative to meet 100 percent of ACT’s criteria goals.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (third from left) spoke at a recent event in Joplin, Missouri, to celebrate Jasper County’s attainment as the first ACT Certified Work Ready Community in the nation. Joining him were (from left) Rob O’Brian, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce; Fred McConnel, ACT; Jasen Jones, Southwest Missouri Workforce Investment Board; Susan Adams, Able Manufacturing & Assembly; Marsha Wallace, Empire District Electric Company; and Ray Tubaugh, Arvest Bank.
In May 2011, a tornado devastated Joplin in Jasper County, causing approximately $6 billion in damages, killing 158 people, and injuring more than 1,000. It destroyed almost 7,000 homes and damaged another 850. Since then, Joplin has been rebuilding its economy.
The national CWRC effort, led by ACT, provides a framework for states to strengthen economic development using a community-based approach grounded in certifying counties as “work ready.” States award this certification when counties reach established goals, including individuals in the workforce who have earned the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate™ (NCRC) and businesses that recognize, prefer, or recommend the NCRC credential. States may add other criteria to their particular initiatives. More than 3,000 Jasper County residents have earned the ACT NCRC credential since 2006.
“Jasper County residents in the emerging, transitioning, and current workforce have proven they have the skills employers are looking for,” said Debra Lyons, ACT vice president for community and economic development. “The community has really come together to understand and improve the skill levels of the entire workforce. Jasper County clearly has a plan for meeting the needs of business and industry, and they have the workforce data to back it up.”
“For Jasper County to become the very first ACT Certified Work Ready Community in the nation is another testament to this community’s resilience and its commitment to rebuilding its economy stronger and smarter than ever before.” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon
Jasen Jones, executive director of the Southwest Missouri Workforce Investment Board (WIB), which serves Jasper County and six additional counties, credits Jasper’s accomplishment to the relationship between the county’s educators, chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations, and employers.
“This Work Ready designation can truly help a community transform its economy and gain a competitive advantage in expanding existing businesses and attracting new businesses and jobs,” said Jones.
He envisions establishing Work Ready corridors along a broad swath of southwest Missouri and extending into neighboring states where the NCRC credential is also recognized. Currently, 87 employers in Jasper County have announced their support for the ACT NCRC credential as an element of hiring.
Able Manufacturing & Assembly is one of those Joplin-area companies. Susan Adams, director of human resources at Able and a member of the area WIB, said the Work Ready Community status gives her region the opportunity to stand out above other communities. “If a business, small or large, is thinking of relocating or expanding, they can be confident that Jasper County has a certified workforce that is ready, willing, and able to go to work.”
As the first pilot state to go public with its initiative last autumn, Missouri has an additional 13 counties that are on track to becoming fully certified within two years. The number of businesses supporting the initiative and the ACT NCRC in Missouri has grown to more than 500.
Julie Gibson, director, Missouri Division of Workforce Development, says she’s pleased that the counties applying for Work Ready status include both urban areas such as Kansas City and rural communities.
“The CWRC initiative has become a great benefit for economic development in Missouri,” said Gibson. “It’s bringing education, workforce, economic development, and business around a table to really talk about each community’s workforce.”
WHAT IS THE ACT CWRC INITIATIVE?
A voluntary effort to align workforce and education to meet the economic needs of the state and local communities, the ACT Certified Work Ready Communities initiative began in January 2012 with Missouri as one of the first participating states. Oregon and South Carolina also have multiple counties actively engaged in attaining ACT Certified Work Ready Community status. Other states have since joined the movement, and additional states will be named soon.