Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.

For at least the past five months, Alliance President Lou Ann Nisbett has been building a file on development initiatives that can be useful in efforts to improve the local workforce — especially for our manufacturing industries that provide thousands of jobs.

She’s met with elected officials, educators, business leaders and industry executives and attended state and national forums that had panel sessions on the global need for skilled workers — presently and for the near- and long-term future.

Nisbett is not alone in recognizing the critical importance of technical education and other educational options that will create the required talent “pipeline” in Arkansas. A statewide public-private partnership is developing among those who want to formulate definitive workforce solutions for the state’s manufacturers and address Arkansas’ skills gap. Nisbett attended a meeting of that group in Little Rock recently. She came away enthusiastic about what’s already being done, the new ideas presented, and the opportunities for coordination between agencies already offering workforce training programs.

According to the Arkansas State Chamber, there are approximately 30,000 open jobs in Arkansas today that companies are unable to fill. That’s salaries not earned, production goals not met, the stress of an increased workload for some, and a lot of job seekers not prepared to enter the workforce due to a lack of basic skills.

Not surprising, the Alliance has made workforce development a top priority for 2018 for Jefferson County. A workforce that is trainable, at the very least, but preferably highly skilled is what our manufacturers expect. And it’s what they need in order to remain operational and competitive in a global economy.

Next week’s column will focus on one particular workforce training initiative that can elevate our community’s advantage in attracting and retaining manufacturing industries.