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UWA launches new workforce development center

State, region, local officials gather for launch of program to empower workforce

The University of West Alabama hosted a full roster of state, regional, and local officials on Thursday, Nov. 2, for the ribbon cutting ceremony commemorating the launch of the new UWA Center for Workforce Development at Hunt Annex on campus.

UWA President Ken Tucker welcomed a standing-room only crowd, thanking all in attendance for their commitment to supporting the University in its efforts to drive workforce and economic development for the Black Belt region.

“We want to create an education and training pipeline to help unemployed and underemployed individuals to increase their knowledge and abilities so they can get better jobs, pay raises, benefits, and other opportunities that will increase their standard of living,” Tucker said. “Rather than being an island unto itself, UWA is working with local and regional leaders to make a positive difference in the lives of those we serve.”

Dr. Tina N. Jones, executive director of UWA’s Division of Economic Development and Outreach, introduced several special guests and explained that the Division serves not only Sumter County, but west Alabama and the entire Black Belt region by developing the unique natural and cultural assets to address the educational, social, and economic needs of the area.

Joseph Brown, Western Division manager for Alabama Power Company, sits on the UWA Board of Trustees and serves as chair of its economic development committee. Brown spoke to the crowd gathered, offering the Board’s support and encouragement for this endeavor.

“This event and this initiative are proof of the positive impact that UWA has on economic and workforce development on and off campus,” Brown said. “This Center is truly fulfilling a tremendous need in our region.”

Alabama Secretary of Labor Fitzgerald Washington also applauded UWA’s efforts, which he says are proving to be fruitful. Sumter County’s unemployment rate is down from 6.2 percent to 4.7 percent. He said that Alabama is currently paying 15 percent lower in unemployment wages than the state has paid in the last decade.

“We made a commitment to lower unemployment rates, and that’s what we plan to continue doing, bringing these rates down to single digits” Washington said, citing an only 3.8 percent unemployment rate for Alabama right now, down from 4.2 percent in August and tied for Alabama’s lowest in history. He said Alabama boasts the largest recent drop in the nation.

Angela Till, deputy secretary of commerce for the State of Alabama, commended the University for working to align with the needs or area businesses and industries to improve the overall economy.

“Without workforce development, there is no economic development,” Till said. “UWA is helping to build and strengthen a qualified workforce, and this is vital to our state’s economy.”

Dr. Donnie Cobb, professor of computer information systems and technology for UWA’s College of Business and Technology, serves as director of the new Center for Workforce Development. Cobb shared some of the ways people can support and empower the Center, from offering facility tours at area operations, discussions with students, donations of consumables, and any other steps that can help guide student success.

“Our program has seen a 600 percent growth in recent years, and although that’s phenomenal, we want more,” Cobb said.

Interim Dean Dr. Aliquippa Allen also spoke on behalf of the College of Business and Technology, commending the faculty and staff that have taken lead roles in creating the center and driving its success. She introduced Mr. Curtis Jones, instructor of automotive technology, and Mr. J.D. Pruitt, instructor of welding. Both have developed curriculum as part of the University’s workforce development effort to prepare students for certificate programs that increase their skill levels and can even be transferred toward a two- or four-year program.

Information on UWA’s Workforce Development programs and contact information relevant to each are online at uwa.edu/workforce_development.aspx.

To learn more about UWA’s Center for Workforce Development or the programs and initiatives offered to empower and grow west Alabama’s workforce, contact Dr. Donnie Cobb at 205-652-3704 or email dcobb@uwa.edu. Reach the Division of Economic Development and Outreach by calling 205-652-3828 or email Dr. Tina N. Jones at tnj@uwa.edu.

(This article originally appeared in the Saturday, Nov. 4 edition of the Demopolis Times.)