Yokohama job-seekers pack the auditorium at EMCC

Almost 1,000 people showed up at East Mississippi Community College’s Golden Triangle campus Saturday for information sessions about how to submit successful job applications to Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi (YTMM).

Yokohama officials announced the selection of West Point as the site of a new plant on April 29, 2013, broke ground in September and plan to begin their first round of hiring in April 2014.

YTMM President Tadaharu Yamamoto has already moved from Japan to the Golden Triangle.

“Ever since I got here, you have made me feel truly welcome,” Yamamoto told the crowd. “I know many of you have last-minute shopping to do, so do I … but I think Christmas came early this year for all of us. We believe in you. All journeys begin with a step, and this is your first step.”

Up to 140 people will be hired in April. By the time the plant opens in October 2015, it will have created about 500 new jobs, and the application process will be competitive.

“If past experience is any indicator, we expect 5,000 to 6,000 people to apply for those 500 jobs, so it is essential that applicants are prepared and have the right certifications,” said Dr. Raj Shaunak, EMCC vice president of Workforce Services.

“EMCC is charged with training the workforce for Yokohama Tire. As we have in the past with other local industries, we will work with people to make sure they have the appropriate skills to work in Yokohama’s most technologically advanced plant.”

Minimum requirements include a high school diploma or GED, Silver-level WorkKeys test score and completion of EMCC’s Basic Manufacturing Skills class. EMCC will help potential applicants with testing, classes and preparation starting Jan. 6. For more information, call (662) 243-2659.

Orson Shelton of West Point was among the people who attended one of the employment information sessions on Saturday. He has a business degree from Mississippi State University and 22 years of experience in management. Shelton resigned from a position in October so he could care for his father.

“I’ve done a lot of research online and I’ve sent out a lot of resumes. I’m looking for an administrative position, although I’m open to other possibilities,” Shelton said.

“The job market is kind of tight toward the end of the year, especially with the holiday season. Most companies aren’t making any changes right now.”

James Johnson of Columbus and Roy Conley of Starkville attended together. They lost their jobs in February when OMNOVA Solutions closed. But both are working a plan at EMCC. They’ve already taken the Basic Manufacturing Skills class, one of Yokohama’s requirements for job applicants.

Regina Reed of Mantee owns a computer repair business: “I could work with them as a consultant or an employee, either way. I’m ready to do whatever they need me to do.”

All over EMCC’s Lyceum auditorium, the story was the same. People were optimistic after a long period of double-digit unemployment in Clay County.

“In 2007, Bryan Foods announced it would shut down its Sara Lee plant in West Point. By June, 1,600 people had lost their jobs,” Shaunak said.

“In the gloom, we were wondering what the future would hold. Now, what a wonderful morning it is for the Golden Triangle, West Point and Clay County. Thank you, Yokohama.”

More good news. Phase 1 is just the beginning. YTMM’s West Point facility calls for as many as four phases, with each one bringing more new jobs.

It takes a team

In his remarks, Shaunak quoted Joe Max Higgins, president of the Golden Triangle Development LINK: “Economic development is a team sport.”

“Joe’s right about that,” Shaunak said. “From Yokohama to the LINK, from the Clay County Board of Supervisors and the mayor and selectmen of West Point, to the folks here at EMCC, we are partners, we are a team.”

Shelton Deanes, president of the Clay County Board of Supervisors, expressed the spirit of hope in the auditorium.

“Looks like just about all the seats are filled. That means we want to work. That means we will work,” Deanes said. “We are back, Clay County! We are back, West Point!”

As he watched the Lyceum fill up Saturday morning, Clay County Supervisor Floyd McKee said it was a very good day.

“I’m happy and proud to see everyone turning out,” McKee said. “I hope everyone in the Golden Triangle shows up. We need to get the people to work.”

West Point Mayor Robbie Robinson urged attendees to spread the word, to tell their friends, neighbors and children about the opportunity at Yokohama.

District 5 Supervisor Joe Williams of the Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors said the impact of new YTMM plant will be felt throughout the area: “This is a wonderful opportunity, not only for Clay County, but for the whole region. We are all going to benefit from an industry such as Yokohama investing in our future. This is what economic development is all about.”

Meanwhile, out at the Yokohama construction site, the heavy site work for Phase 1 has been done. The foundation is complete and construction of the facility will begin in early 2014.

And at EMCC, workforce instructors and staff will be working on a different kind of foundation for success, the people who will one day work at Yokohama Tire Manufacturing Mississippi.

“We will produce the best workforce they have ever had in the whole history of their corporation,” Shaunak said. “Everyone who wants to work at Yokohama will have to ‘skill up’ and EMCC will partner with you.”