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October 15, 2007




MERIDIAN, MS -- “This region is building one of the most innovative, accessible, advanced manufacturing training systems in the United States” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour said today. He was announcing a new “anytime, anywhere” job training system and eight-college training alliance the West Alabama – East Mississippi WIRED Initiative is putting in place.


“Governor. Bob Riley (AL) and I jointly sought the WIRED grant to help make this area of West Alabama and East Mississippi a globally competitive region, creating an innovative, regional workforce education and training system to address key skill needs in the region,” Governor Barbour said.


A new WAEM Alliance of eight community and junior colleges in the region will oversee the operation of the virtual, Internet-based training system, Governor Barbour said. “This alliance is intended to last far beyond the WIRED grant period,” he added.


Alabama Southern, Bevill State, Shelton State, and Wallace–Selma are the Alabama colleges joining the alliance. East Central, East Mississippi, Jones County, and Meridian are the Mississippi colleges.


Joined by Gov. Riley’s representative, Bill Johnson, executive director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Governor Barbour said the WAEM Alliance will provide the platform for these colleges to:


• Support regional economic development projects – across the state line and throughout the region;
• Establish and award a regional credential for advanced manufacturing and other high-tech industries;
• Align credit and non-credit career and technical training programs to regional priorities – such as those highlighted at the WAEM Summit in May; and,
• Jointly acquire and implement innovative training systems.


At the May 14 “Governors’ Summit” in Monroeville, AL, regional leaders picked advanced manufacturing as a top regional priority along with healthcare.


Governor Barbour said he particularly liked the “lifelong learning” aspects of the new virtual training system. Consisting of more than 450 advanced manufacturing training modules, the anytime, anywhere training system is being purchased by the WAEM Alliance from Indiana-based Amatrol, Inc.


This Internet based, on-line system, will support:


• technical training at the WAEM colleges and allied high schools;
• on-site training for business and industry; and
• individual skills training at home, at work, or anywhere there is broadband Internet access.


Bill Johnson said the new regional training system will be supported by “$4 million in WIRED investments to stand-up and upgrade advanced manufacturing training at the eight colleges.”


College presidents were excited about the potential of the new system. Neal Morrison, new president at Bevill State Community College said, “With the unemployment rate in Alabama less than four percent, we must look at qualifying those who are not normally involved in hi-tech manufacturing or who cannot attend a traditional setting, as well as those graduating from our secondary school system. With the Amatrol system, we can reach anyone with access to a computer with high speed access using regional manufacturing skill standards to qualify them by preassessing, upgrade training if needed, and proving their skills.”


East Central Mississippi Community College President Phil Sutphin echoed Morrison’s remarks, saying, “For our region to be competitive in the world economy, we must provide the means to develop the highly skilled workforce that will be required to retain and attract jobs to our region.”


The announcement was held at the new equipment testing center for Loblolly, Inc. Loblolly is a locally-owned, $140 million new technology wood products company making engineered beams from juvenile pine trees.


Governor Barbour said Loblolly represents the sort of advanced manufacturing facility the WAEM Region needs to attract and keep.


“Loblolly will use a high-tech, totally automated manufacturing process that will require workers with advanced manufacturing skills” he said. “It will draw these workers from both West Alabama and East Mississippi, and draw raw materials from the same region. “This builds on the region’s assets to create high-skill, high paying jobs, a top goal of the WIRED Initiative.”