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Communities in Transition: Maher to Help Pine Bluff Region to Re-employ 1,100

Pine Bluff, AR – Economic development officials are developing a plan to help re-employ as many as possible of the 1,100 Pine Bluff Arsenal workers expected to lose their jobs within the next couple of years.
The plan will be formed from the ideas of about 80 business leaders, educators, economic developers and elected officials in Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson, Lincoln, Pulaski, Lonoke, Dallas and Saline counties, who will work through our Communities in Transition strategic planning process.

“As our economy has adjusted to globalization, we’ve had the opportunity to work with communities across the U.S. impacted by various forms of economic trauma – from plant shut-downs to natural disasters, such as what occurred in New Orleans with Katrina,” said Richard Maher, President and CEO. “We’ve learned a lot in the course of those efforts – the most central of which is the need to bring community leaders together around a common future vision of community health and prosperity.”

The economic impact of the shutdown on the region has been estimated at close to $100 million annually. The plan, which is expected to be in place as early as December, will be funded by a federal grant from the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment.

“This gives us an opportunity to have funding to do studies, analysis and strategic planning that we would not otherwise have,” said Lou Ann Nisbett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County. “We’re all going to feel this hurt at the same time and here’s an opportunity to build these bridges. When you talk economic development nowadays, it’s more regional than just one city.”

A transition office has been set up at the Pine Bluff Arsenal to help workers find employment as they wind down its mission to help destroy the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile by 2012 to comply with an international treaty. In addition to the grant funds, money will be available to dislocated arsenal workers to pay for up to two years of college or training from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Workforce Investment Act (WIA).

“We’re going to look at the regional economic base: What are the largest industries? What are the strongest competencies of our area work force?” said Bryan Barnhouse, the senior Project Manager implementing the grant. “We’re going to match that with a career audit that identifies the strengths, skills and knowledge of the workforce of our area, especially those target occupations of the 1,100 jobs coming out of the arsenal.”

“If I were an employer in the region,” Barnhouse added, “and I knew 1,100 people were competent and coming out into the workforce, I’d be salivating right now.”

Arnold Richter, Maher & Maher’s Project Manager, said a nine-county region in central Iowa was able to recruit wind-turbine companies to the area, creating nearly as many jobs as were lost around Newton, Iowa, after Whirlpool bought Maytag, and then the manufacturing plant cut hundreds of jobs in 2006. “With the project involving the arsenal, it’s important for the leaders in the 14 counties to think regionally. It’s especially crucial in rural areas where assets are few and far between and spread out geographically,” Richter said.

For example, if the leaders think biotechnology is a potential industry to attract to the region, the area’s educators could then offer training for occupations in that industry.

Working together community leaders will use economic information, compiled by the Maher team, to focus on industry clusters and occupations where they have a chance to compete and win on a global stage. Educators, businesses, workforce and economic development agencies will align around these targeted sectors so that limited resources can be applied strategically to achieve a common vision of future community prosperity.

“Today’s environment is challenging and it does not allow for inefficiency,” said Maher. “We can help community leaders align – provide them a process for decision-making and collaboration to work together – as one – for the benefit of the next generation. Ultimately, however, it’s the community’s plan. They are the authors of their own future and that future starts with the decisions they’ll be making over the next several months. We’re looking forward to helping them create a future Pine Bluff will be proud of for generations to come.”

About Maher & Maher:

Maher & Maher is a New Jersey-based change management and training consulting firm providing program/project integration and management, facilitation, and technical assistance, including development of specialized training and e-learning solutions for the communications and government services sectors.