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 more than a year now, Lou Ann Nisbett has been on a single-issue but three-fold mission.

During that time Nisbett, the Alliance’s president, worked to assemble a coalition of like-minded folks, made countless phone calls, and even enlisted the help of the governor in an effort to strengthen the area’s workforce.

One objective of this workforce development initiative was reached in early April. That’s when Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined officials from Arkansas, Grant and Jefferson counties at the state capitol to officially launch efforts by those counties to meet criteria to become certified as ACT Work Ready Communities.

ACT’s National Career Readiness Certificate® (ACT NCRC) is key to the Work Ready Communities initiative because it is designed to measure workers’ job readiness and close any skills gaps. More than three million people around the country have earned an ACT NCRC, including high school and college students and job seekers. And more than 10,000 employers nationwide “recognize or recommend” this certificate in support of their respective counties becoming certified.

The ACT NCRC is an employability certificate that provides proof to employers of an individual’s skills because they’ve been measured by assessments. That benefits businesses and industries needing skilled workers and economic developers seeking to increase available job opportunities in their communities.

The second initiative emphasis currently being addressed by Nisbett is getting more local employers signed up in support of Jefferson County’s certification process. There is no cost. By signing up, companies are simply stating that they, too, recognize or recommend this ACT assessment process. Some employers actually prefer applicants with NCRC credentials. But this community support is essential to certification.

Thus far, 28 Jefferson County employers have added their names to the workreadycommunities.org website page dedicated to Jefferson County. But Nisbett says a total of 68 employers are needed, so she’s hoping more will take the few minutes required to register. She also notes that the county, in a very short time, has already attained 81 percent of its Work Ready Community certification goals.

Once all the established goals are met, Nisbett has another personal goal in mind. It involves knowing that local high school and college students are earning NCRCs in addition to their diplomas. And that unemployed and under-employed individuals also are taking the training (and the testing), along with others looking for employment or thinking about job advancements.

That would mean a local workforce skilled and ready for jobs in our businesses and industries. And then Nisbett could truly say, “Mission accomplished.”