by Mike Pare
CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Facing a tightening labor market coupled with rapid job growth, Bradley County on Friday kicked off a new effort to help meet what officials call “critical” workforce needs.
Dubbed “Your Skills. Your Future,” the three-year campaign centers on a new website where students, parents, educators and others can learn more about resources for jobs, post-secondary education, financial aid, certifications and training.
“It’s focused on Bradley County but it’s a multicounty initiative,” said Gary Farlow, the chief executive of the Cleveland-Bradley Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the initiative.
Farlow said Bradley’s workforce includes people from 11 counties around it, including Hamilton County, and part of the effort is to encourage the labor pool to look at technical careers.
“There are well-paying jobs with a two-year certificate or degree,” he said.
Bob McIntire, who chairs Cleveland’s Economic Development Council, said the county has successfully improved its economy and growth is directly related to workforce quality.
“We’ve got a lot of industry looking at us,” he said. “That creates more need.”
While much of the effort is focused on filling manufacturing jobs, there are other needs in technical career areas, professional and service industries, and medical and administrative fields, Farlow said.
The Chamber is initially spending about $150,000 for the privately funded effort, Farlow said.
The website has career information where people can take a quiz to help them with their interests, he said. In addition to the website, plans are to engage people on social media, with a speakers bureau, school partnerships and direct mail pieces, officials said.
Bradley’s jobless rate in December of 4.2 percent was the lowest among 16 counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. The rate also is below Tennessee’s mark of 4.9 percent and Georgia’s 5.2 percent.
Cleveland led the nation in the share of new jobs added from October 2015 to October 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, aided by companies such as Wacker Chemie AG, Whirlpool and Amazon.
“Many of our employers are still looking for skilled people,” Farlow said. “We’re trying to encourage people to start a career track.”
The website will hold videos of work sites showing why technical posts are “good jobs,” he said.
Doug Berry, the Cleveland Chamber’s vice president for economic development, termed the campaign “a tool” for the area.
When recruiting companies, they often ask what the community is doing to build its workforce, he said.
“Ultimately, what it’s trying to achieve is to create a channel for lifetime learners,” Berry said.
State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, said he’s impressed the campaign is privately funded and not dependent on public funds.
“We’ll help any way we can,” he added.
Farlow said the workforce effort eventually may seek state and federal funds along with grant money.