“What a huge day this is for Northeast Tennessee,” Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable said Wednesday during a news conference at the FTDD’s offices in Johnson City.
Venable said only 248 counties in the nation have achieved the WRC designation, with Hawkins and Sullivan counties among the 14 in Tennessee. The other Volunteer State counties to earn the distinction are in West Tennessee.
Now that counties in the area have the WRC designation, Venable said the next step is to let employers know there is a qualified workforce available for them to hire in the region. He said part of the work of the “blue ribbon” committee on regionalism that he and Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy appointed earlier this week will be getting that message out to businesses and industries.
“This is a great economic development tool,” Venable said.
Sullivan County launched its WRC efforts in 2015 to address the workforce needs identified in a United Way assessment. Venable said community leaders joined with local schools officials, educators at Northeast State Community College and the FTDD to push for the certification.
Jeff McCord, vice president of economic and workforce development at Northeast State and chairman of Sullivan County’s Work Ready Community Committee, said it was “a very strong team” from industry, government, economic development, K-12 education and higher education that led the way to earning the WRC status.
“This demonstrates we can come together and make things happen,” McCord said.
The objective of the WRC program is to prepare students to enter the workforce by teaching them the skills needed to obtain an ACT National Career Readiness Certification. To earn that certification, students are tested on being able to comprehend workplace documents, graphic literacy and applied math.
In the process, students can earn a bronze, silver, gold or platinum certification. Platinum is the highest, which is the level Eastman Chemical requires to apply for a job at its facility.
Lottie Ryans, who heads FTDD’s workforce and literacy programs, said the other six counties that make up the development district are close to reaching the WRC certification. She said Carter, Greene, Hancock, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington counties are on track to meet a June deadline for reaching the program’s goals.
“There’s great momentum,” Ryans said.
Grandy said he is confident Washington County will receive WRC status before the end of 2019.
“It helps to have a good model to follow,” he said of Sullivan County’s example. “A workforce is not specific to county lines.”