Time for the teacher

Published 8:12 pm Friday, March 21, 2014

Education is the taproot through which a community’s quality of life is fed.
With that in mind, it’s time to point out the impact of choosing an educator to lead business development and recruitment in Vicksburg and Warren County.
Jane Lauderdale Flowers, a lifelong educator and administrator, starts June 2 as executive director of the Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce. She’s headed up the work-based learning program at Hinds Community College for several years. It’s basically a program that takes raw skills and hones them into something marketable for young welders, electricians and carpenters. The United States can’t produce enough homegrown skilled labor, it seems, so the program has paid for itself many times over.
The last federal census, in 2010, pointed out what we measured viscerally for a generation. Warren County’s population is increasingly outside the city limits of Vicksburg. Precise numbers showed 48,773 countywide and 23,856 inside the city, with the latter being nearly 10 percent fewer people than the 2000 count. Reasons for this varied. When it comes to safety and schools, people vote with their feet, without fail.
Shortly after that census came the American Community Survey, something of a periodic update on socioeconomic trends, that showed people who work here increasingly don’t live here. Surveys from 2005 to 2010 showed the percentage of people who commuted to work in Warren County hovered around 10 percent. Some time later, in December 2011, a Vicksburg Post story that accompanied the population report outlined the popularity of carpooling in privately-run vans among Vicksburg’s federal workforce. Droves of them work here and live elsewhere. As Flowers’ predecessor Christi Kilroy said in the story, “It always comes back to the same conversation — how do we improve housing and how do we improve the schools?”
For retail chains, big-ticket distributors and other industries, the decision to move or expand into a new locale usually boils down to quality of the workforce. That quality is made or broken in the home and in school. Since there’s no meter to measure parenting, we have only test scores and dropout rates to gauge how we’re preparing people for the working world. The last batch of ratings for the Vicksburg Warren School District wasn’t too rosy; the system rated a D.
But, that’s where Flowers’ insight could come handy to keep potential employers interested in Vicksburg. The real world can hit a C or D student hard and, in many cases, the only way to go is up. The road to being a welding foreman or a master carpenter begins in trade school, which again is the essence of Hinds’ work-based learning program that Flowers has coordinated. She’s seen firsthand that learning doesn’t stop after high school. There’s plenty of success stories that have graduated from Hinds a more mature person and potential employee compared to when they started.
Perhaps Flowers can point prospective and existing businesses to some of those stories. The guess here is that she will.