Howell County has been certified as a national “Work Ready Community” by the national college testing organization ACT, joining a select group of counties across the United States that is linking its economic development initiatives with education and workforce development.
Economic Development Director Robert Case said the designation is meant to boost economic growth in a region by providing a ready-made workforce for current and existing employers in the area. “This initiative demonstrates to prospective businesses that we have the workforce in place for them to locate in Howell County,” said Case.
Howell County’s designation was achieved through the efforts of the South Central Workforce Investment Board, the City of West Plains, the South Central Career Center (SCCC), and West Plains Schools. Case said the local schools deserve special mention “for really embracing this initiative and providing us with students to fulfill our emerging class goals.”
Dr. Josh Cotter, SCCC Assistant Director, said the Work Ready Community certification was truly a group effort that could benefit the entire community. “For over 40 years, South Central Career Center and West Plains Schools have been committed to the development of a high-quality workforce in our area,” said Dr. Cotter. “We are proud to be a part of the team that helped achieve this designation for our county. The economic development benefit of this accomplishment cannot be overstated.”
Howell County received a gold-level certification, which is the second highest certification available. As one of its requirements for certification, the county successfully tested 743 individuals for the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), which includes employed and unemployed workers, and full-time students.
Participants who receive their NCRC are tested in the areas of math, science, and reading comprehension as part of a WorkKeys Assessment, which gauges workplace competency skills that make them more desirable for employers in today’s workforce. In fact, 63 local companies in Howell County recognize and/or recommend earning the NCRC as part of their hiring process, including major employers such as Air Medical Group Holdings (Air Evac Lifeteam), Ozarks Medical Center and the City of West Plains.
Case said becoming an ACT-certified Work Ready Community is another example of how the City of West Plains and Howell County “can show not only our existing companies, but also the rest of the world, that we are an area that can provide the necessary tools that a company can use to be successful right here in the heart of the Ozarks.”
In addition to the Work Ready Community designation, West Plains was also recently successful in securing Delta Regional Authority (DRA) funding for a second floor renovation of the Ozarks Small Business Incubator, and for the rehabilitation of the 16,000-square-foot City scales building for an Advanced Manufacturing Center.
Both of those projects were deemed high priorities by Governor Jay Nixon, and were viewed as aligning closely to Missouri’s economic development goals of supporting projects that could make a significant economic impact for the Delta region of Missouri.
Case said these efforts are part of a renewed focus in West Plains and Howell County on economic development, in particular on creating an environment that is inviting for potential investors to the area.