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Collaboration between Economic Development Council, schools, employers key to St. Clair’s low jobless rate

PELL CITY -- The unemployment rate for St. Clair County continues to be one of the lowest in the state, and local officials say that’s no accident.

“The EDC (Economic Development Council) works closely with the educators and employers to make sure there are programs in place to make sure our community has the opportunity to not just find a job, but a career,” said Don Smith, executive director for the St. Clair County Economic Development Council. “This has taken the form of well-attended career fairs, state-sponsored training programs and connecting the educators’ programs with the local and regional employment demands.”

The Alabama Department of Labor, in cooperation with the Bureau of Labor Statistics, listed St. Clair County’s latest unemployment rate as 3.9 percent, dipping below the state and national averages.

The overall state unemployment rate is 4.2 percent, and the national average is 4.4, according to the most recent unemployment figures.   

Smith said the release of the latest unemployment numbers takes place as companies like Town & Country Ford, Eissmann Automotive and the Col. Robert Howard State Veterans Home have recently completed career fairs to hire a large number of applicants.  

He said construction on new developments like McSweeney Automotive in Pell City, Gardner Denver Nash in Moody and multiple projects along the Interstate 59 corridor will provide even more opportunities for employment.   

Smith said local schools are also helping pave the way to a variety of careers for students with courses and programs that help keep unemployment numbers below the state and national average.

He said Jefferson State Community College offers a number of career-focused programs like the WKW Automotive Apprenticeship Program, the Honda Apprenticeship Program, the NCCER Ironworker Training Program and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) sponsored biomedical research program.

The local college recently announced an expansion of its nursing program. Jefferson State will have an official grand opening for its Pell City campus nursing wing next month.

“We strive to support and be responsive to the workforce development needs of our community,” said Dr. Nicholas Kin, the associate dean at the Jefferson State campus in Pell City.  “All workforce development programs at Jefferson State Community College are designed to train students for high-demand and high-wage jobs. For example, the current employment rate for our nursing program (RN) graduates is 100 percent.”

Officials said efforts to put students on a path for employment begin at the high school level.

“Our students have multiple opportunities to prepare for high-skilled, high-demand careers,” said Dr. Kim Williams, the curriculum coordinator for the Pell City school system.

Williams also serves on the Pell City Industrial Development Board. She said job opportunities are available because of strong partnerships between the school system, the city, the business and industrial communities, the EDC and Jefferson State.  

“These partnerships support our students as they work as interns or apprentices through the PCHS Workforce Development Program,” Williams said.

Through career and technical education courses, students may study health science, welding and construction, law and public safety, JROTC, business education and computer science, as well as Project Lead The Way Biomedical Science and Engineering.  

“At the Academy of Craft Training, students have additional opportunities in welding, electrical, masonry, building construction and HVAC/plumbing,” Williams said. “Finally, Jefferson State Community College provides dual enrollment courses in manufacturing and technology and applied engineering in addition to the ironworker training program led by Garrison Steel.

“We are grateful for the support that has enabled our students to have these options. Our goal is to continue working to provide our students with relevant opportunities that meet workforce needs.”

Leann Ford, the career coach with the St. Clair County school system, said career tech instructors strive to prepare students for careers related to local industries.  

“The students at ECTC (the Eden Career Tech Center) are introduced to many local job opportunities through job shadowing and field trips,” Ford said. “Welding, construction, IT and health sciences are a few of the fields that are currently in high demand across our area.”

Local officials said the St. Clair County Economic Development Council has played an important role in fostering strong partnerships and a climate that encourages economic growth and collaboration, which produces jobs for St. Clair County communities.

“The County Commission helped create the Economic Development Council in 1999 because we believed having an organization working with all the cities, educators and our employers was critical in achieving the best opportunities for the citizens of St. Clair County,” commission Chairman Paul Manning said.