APSU Industry Summit inspires local leaders to envision the future
(Posted Oct. 4, 2018)
Frank Tate, executive director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County Industrial Development Board, knows how to brag. If you’re going to make a bold statement, you’d better be able to back it up. On Wednesday morning, during the Alignment of Community and Education Industry Summit, hosted by Austin Peay State University’s College of STEM, he told a packed audience of local business, civic and educational leaders that Clarksville-Montgomery County is the best place in all of Tennessee to live, work, play and thrive. In his words, it’s “ideal.”
“If it was not the ideal location, I don’t think we could say we’ve got the quality stable household names in our industry court,” he said. “I don’t think they would have chosen our location if they didn’t feel like this was a great place to be.”
In the last few years, several major companies, such as Google, LG Electronics and Hankook Tire, have invested in this “ideal” community, but executives with both new and existing employers argue that the area, with its educational and military resources, still has much more to offer. A recent labor analysis even called for the community to “increase communication and collaboration between industry, educators and the military.”
That challenge was issued in 2017, and Austin Peay’s College of STEM quickly set to work organizing Wednesday’s summit.
“This summit is about reaching out to initiate the conversation of how to better align regional educational programs with the needs of regional industry,” Dr. Karen Meisch, interim dean of the College of STEM, said.
On Oct. 3, Dr. Alisa White, APSU president, welcomed a diverse group of community partners to campus to help foster these stronger relationships. Representatives from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, Nashville State Community College and Hopkinsville Community College were also there to offer their support.
“We’re committed to educating our students so they have strong critical thinking, quantitative reasoning and communication skills to allow them to join the workforce, and the hope is that they would start adding value day one,” White said. “We can add degrees to meet changing industry requirements, but we need to stay connected to you all, to regional employers and stakeholders to know what they really need.”
Millard House, director of the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System, said his staff is committed to meeting with industry representatives to help meet their needs, and his team isn’t afraid to think outside of the box.
“I vow to innovate,” he said. “That means that if a particular industry or company wants us to come in and start a small school, we’ll sit down and have that conversation. We are open to innovation, we are open to possibilities that are good for children and good for industry as well.”
Before he bragged about Clarksville-Montgomery County, Tate addressed what he sees as a major challenge for employers – hiring and keeping skilled workers. With the unemployment rate at a record low of 3.2 percent, it’s often a challenge for companies to keep workers from moving to a new job offering just a little more money or an extra day off.
“Hiring has become, in my opinion, a stressful task for HR managers,” he said. “‘Hire’ is a four-letter word in some cases.” He added later that, with so many successful companies in the area, “We’re in the middle of a talent war.”
“We’ve got to maintain a quality place, we’ve got to provide an atmosphere where folks want to live here, play here, grow here and continue to raise their families here,” he said.
Eric Horton, with Workforce Essentials, offered a solution to the talent war, telling employers to “take a chance” on men and women transitioning out of the military.
“The No. 2 largest employer in the state of Tennessee is Fort Campbell,” he said. “That is a talent pool where you have 6,000 soldiers leaving a year.”
Wednesday’s summit ended at 10 a.m., but several individuals stayed to continue discussing how to take advantage of the region’s many resources. A consensus emerged that the community needs to host more events like the APSU summit to keep the conversation going.
“We’re all here for the same reason, and that’s that we want to provide solutions to our workforce issues that are facing our community and really position ourselves ahead of our peer communities when it comes to providing a sustainable workforce,” County Mayor Jim Durrett said.
“There’s no reason why we can’t do better,” City Mayor Kim McMillan said. “In fact, there’s every reason for us to roll up our sleeves and capitalize on the energy and expertise we have right here in our community.”