Greene County continues to make history with expansion of center

Written By: Kelly Atwood
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Date Submitted: 2017-06-13 18:22:01

LEAKESVILLE, MS – Jones County Junior College and Greene County officials celebrated the Greene County Center’s $1.3 million expansion with a groundbreaking ceremony June 9.

    The Center opened its doors only five years ago. Since then, the industry demand in the area has grown to the point of requiring expansion of services, which will be provided through a $909,686 U. S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant. With matching funds and the grant, the total $1,299,551 expansion involves the board of supervisors, JCJC and the South Mississippi Planning and Development District.

     JCJC officials, the Greene County Board of Supervisors and elected representatives were on hand for the ceremony, which recognized the need to expand training to the region’s shipbuilding and marine industries. The Greene County Board of Supervisors were instrumental in obtaining the EDA grant. Morris Hill, the current president of the board of supervisors, also thanked Sen. Thad Cochran and U. S. Rep. Steven Palazzo for their help in securing the grant.

    “The economic landscape of Greene County will be better because people will get better jobs, which lead to better homes and better cars,” said Morris. “It will show signs of life and prosperity. It took a lot of people and entities, and a lot of willingness and foresight. When any particular leader of any particular entity can put people and their needs before themselves, progress seems to flourish.”

   Construction of the 15,000-square-foot building will begin in the next few months and is expected to be complete within three to four years. The new facility is  projected to help train individuals for more than 250 jobs over 10 years in places such as Ingalls Shipyard and similar industries.

     “As a native of Greene County I have been proud to see the current GCC grow to expansion status,” said Clint James, director of the Greene County Center. “Without training and education, success and development of any local community is limited.  The key to local economic growth is through the development of skills and educational attainment.  This expansion will greatly increase the opportunities for our local citizens to be able to prosper in their future careers.”

    The new facility will increase the number of academic classes, Adult Basic Education courses, dual credit classes, and career and technical programs, which include welding and ship-fitting. Electrical and industrial maintenance programs will be available when the new facility opens.

    Kollyn Kitchens of Richton is a JCJC graduate who has an associate’s of applied science in electrical technology from the main campus in Ellisville and an AAS in welding taken through the Greene County Learning Center. He said the additions at the Greene County Learning Center will be helpful for students.

     “I wish the electrical program had been offered in Greene County when I was driving to JCJC’s Ellisville campus every day,” he said. “It would have saved me a lot of driving.”

     Kitchens has worked with Performance Contractors since graduation a year ago. The continued growth of educational opportunities with JCJC is “putting Greene County on the map. Having this at home is beneficial,” he said.

    These opportunities close to home are only possible, according to SMPDD Planning Director Allison Beasley, because of the partnership between the Greene County Board of Supervisors and JCJC.  

    “Right here is actually a best practice and a model,” said Beasley. “You’re next to the high school vo-tech center; you have a great facility; you have great instructors, a great director, and most importantly you have great partnerships with the Board of Supervisors. I’ve never seen a better partnership than we have with JCJC and the Board of Supervisors.”

   The Greene County BOS took a leap of faith 12 years ago when they envisioned providing economic opportunities through education to residents and talked to JCJC administration about constructing a facility for education and training. Those talks came to fruition with a groundbreaking in 2009 and opening in 2012. The original $1.1 million, 17,440-square-foot facility was the first permanent site constructed outside of the college’s main campus. It was funded by a zero-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Business Service and secured by Community Bank and Singing River Electric Power Association.

    “When we built the facility, it was already at its capacity because of the desire of area residents to improve their opportunities,” said Dr. Jesse Smith, president of JCJC. “Here, we have progress because the county and the leadership are investing in its people. We are a collective group of men and women pulling together trying to make our community better…. The progress that’s been made since 2012 is truly inspiring.”

   The new facility, which is the first expansion of the four off-campus centers (Jasper, Clarke and Wayne), will be located on the north side of the current Greene County facility. In addition to providing career and technical classes, it will provide workforce training for potential shipbuilding employees as well as improving job skills for local residents.

       Blake Moody of McLain completed the pipefitting program at the center, graduating at the top of the class. Moody, who also earned his high school equivalency at the center, is currently in the welding program, with the goal of working in Mobile, Alabama. He said JCJC stands out among other schools he’s attended.

     “The teachers know what they’re doing. They help you as much as they can. The school knows what it’s doing.” He said the future facility could be helpful for many people already in the workforce.

     “I’ve got family that would like to further their experience and this could really help them since night classes are offered,” said Moody. “They still have to work because they have families. This could be beneficial for people who want to learn a new trade.”

     According to Gary L. Dearman, a previous president of the Greene County BOS and a current supervisor, among the many milestones that have been reached since he and Dr. Smith visited 12 years ago are providing accessible education and workforce training.

      “And look at how far we’ve come,” Dearman said, also pointing out the addition of the tuition assistance program the supervisors created for any high school graduate or high school equivalency student needing financial assistance to attend JCJC.

    It seems the growth of the Greene County Learning Center will continue as long as there is a demand by industries or need from the residents.

     “We will continue to evaluate the needs of the community and address those needs,” said Dearman.

   For more information about classes and services offered at the Greene County Center, call 601-394-4421.


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