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West Alabama Works, officials celebrate opening of Black Belt Workforce Center in Demopolis

Representatives from business, industry, education and government were in Demopolis Friday, Dec.  to celebrate the opening of the Black Belt Workforce Center.

The career development hub for West Alabama will provide training for job seekers and employers, job application assistance, resumé help, and a computer lab. The center is a project of West Alabama Works through partnerships with SAWDC Alabama Works and Central Alabama Works.

Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama President and CEO Jim Page said the center will serve both job seekers and employers find resources to help them succeed.

“One of our goals is to bring resources and training directly to the people. Providing access to training is what this is all about,” Page said.

Page thanked local and state elected officials for seeing the need for additional job training services in the area. “This took political will, bipartisan will, to make happen.”

The center is similar to West Alabama Works’ location in Brookwood, the first work force center, where nearly 17,000 people have received assistance and registered with CareerConnect, a job application software system that is housed in the center.

“This required the state legislature stepping up by providing the funding and resources,” said Ed Castile, deputy secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “The governor supports the work of connecting jobs to people and people to jobs. We want to remove all barriers and make the path to (employment) as easy as possible.”

The center’s task of helping job seekers and employers connect could lead to brighter days for the Black Belt region.

“How many times have we talked about needing a spark in the Black Belt,” said Donny Jones, executive director for West Alabama Works and chief operating officer for the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama. “This is about (individual communities) laying down its own wants and needs and coming together. It’s about leveraging all of our resources to move the needle. Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future of the Black Belt.”

Demopolis Mayor John Laney added that communities and counties coming together would have positive results across the region.

“Regionalism is what makes this work,” Laney said. “We have to work together. Bringing good paying jobs anywhere in the region raises the quality of life for all our people.”

He added that the Workforce Center could help change a misconception about the Black Belt.

“I’ve heard it said that (the Black Belt) does not have a work force. I believe it’s not that we don’t have a work force, it’s that we don’t have people trained to enter the work force. This center will help us to create a trained work force,” Laney said.

Those involved in the project said a better-trained work force could lead to new business and industry across the region and stop the current trend of young people leaving the area to live elsewhere resulting in lost population to metro areas like Huntsville, Mobile and Birmingham.

“This provides an opportunity for our young people. This will provide additional resources to do what we need to do to keep our young people here,” said State Representative A.J. McCampbell.

Tammi Holley has been named the coordinator for the Black Belt Work Force Center in Demopolis, which is now open for helping job seekers. Services are also available by visiting westalabamaworks.com. The center will be open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is located at 1048 Bailey Drive in Demopolis.

Among others in attendance for the opening was Randy Skagen, vice-president of Nucor Steel and Chairman of West Alabama Works; Brad Newman, plant manager at ZF Chassis Systems and vice-chairman of West Alabama Works; and Dr. Glen King Jr., Wallace Community College-Selma’s director of workforce development.