By Stephen Dethrage – Tuscaloosa News
More than 3,000 jobs are available now or coming soon to West Alabama, and millions of federal and state dollars are being put toward training or retraining workers to fill those positions.
Donny Jones, the chief operating officer of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama and the “team leader” of the West Alabama Works program, said current openings in the health care industry and a pending influx of jobs in the automotive industry will combine to mean thousands of opportunities to work in Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Lamar, Bibb and Hale counties.
“Right now, today, we have over 1,000 jobs available in the community in health care and other industries,” Jones said. “In addition to that, more than 2,000 automotive jobs will become available in the next 18 months and we want to make sure individuals that would like to be trained for those jobs can get that training.”
Jones said the primary driver of the automotive openings is the on-going $1.3 billion expansion of the Mercedes-Benz U.S. International plant in Vance.
With that expansion, he said, various Mercedes suppliers will also grow and hire more workers — 800 jobs at SMP Automotive, 500 more at the Lear Corp., 200 at Bolta US, 200 at the $46 million MollerTech plant coming to Bibb County.
“There are a lot of jobs that are available,” Jones said. “Our jobs as West Alabama Works is to prepare individuals who want a good-paying job and a livable wage to get the training they need to make a difference in their own lives and to have a career that they’re proud of.”
To that end, West Alabama Works launched their 2020 Initiative, which seeks to train 1,000 displaced workers and credential 500 students using money provided by a $1.5 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission.
“It’s called a power grant,” Jones said. “What it does provide money to focus on retooling and retraining individuals in regions that have been impacted by the coal industry down-sizing, so we were well-qualified for it.”
Money from the grant will fund programs at Bevill State and Shelton State community colleges tailor-made to meet industry needs.
It will also pay to bring a pop-up career center to Brookwood and fund renovations at the Brookwood Technical High School and Training Center, where teachers will offer training for hospitality, culinary, health care and advanced manufacturing fields.
“The career resource center and technical high school will be a welcomed and needed asset to the Brookwood community, especially after the downturn of the coal industry, which impacted so many families in this area,” said Brookwood Mayor Alton Hyche. “This innovative and inclusive project will no doubt be a difference maker.”
Jones said anyone interested in the training West Alabama Works will be offering can visit their website at www.westalabamaworks.com, where job-seekers can put their names in a workforce database and get notifications of job opening, training opportunities and more.