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Former Governor Shines Light On Workforce Issues
By Denise Cosper
Southern Rural Development Center
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Former Mississippi Gov. William Winter told educators and job training program coordinators that continuing to move the rural South from "shadows into sunshine" requires building human relationships where people work together.
"Capitalism's success has not eliminated poverty," Winter told participants in a recent Southern workforce conference. "Programs aimed at moving the poor into the economic mainstream require for them to enter an expansion of the economic mainstream, a creation of the bootstraps by which people can pull themselves up out of poverty. There has to be a vision we can all share. Our people are a wonderful resource who are being overlooked and underutilized."
The Southern Rural Development Center headquartered at Mississippi State University sponsored the Building a Quality Workforce in the Rural South conference. More than 150 Extension Service educators, job training program coordinators and other workforce program representatives from 13 states in the Southeast attended the conference.
Winter said studies in the last decade have shown two economic Souths emerging, "one of burgeoning cities and one beyond the bright lights where low wage economic factors are at work to stifle rural areas.
"We have to face up to these harsh realities and develop new strategies, drawing on the strengths of our natural resources and the huge reservoir of underdeveloped human capital," he said.
Winter, who was governor from 1980 to 1984, said the South faces four major barriers to economic equality ñ separation of the well-educated from the poorly trained, deregulation, access to technology and racial differences.
"The only road out of poverty runs by the schoolhouse," Winter said. "Better public schools are essential to training a good workforce. Poor schools shortchange kids and send a bad message to businesses who might want to locate in rural areas. Firms will not go to communities that are not committed to quality public education."
The key to developing the full potential of workers in rural areas lies with universities and community colleges, Winter said.
Deregulation has led to increased trucking rates for small towns and a lack of public transportation, among other difficulties, Winter said. These changes have abandoned rural areas to the pressures of the marketplace and given advantages to urban areas.
Technology can be key to economic growth in the rural South if access to it is not limited.
"Because other essentials are available, such as parks, recreation and schools, more entrepreneurs are finding that the cities and towns of the rural South offer the best of all worlds," Winter said.
The South's multicultural society should be recognized and valued.
"We have made strides in the last 30 years, but there is still too much distrust between races, not just blacks and whites," Winter said. "We have to recognize the interdependence because the vision for the rural South includes all of us."
Winter said overcoming these barriers will take cooperation among public and private sectors where people come together to help the rural South prosper.
"This is a fortuitous time in our history," he said. "It is up to us to see that we don't miss this window of opportunity. We can give our people education, skills, economic opportunities, and the will and vision to prosper wherever they choose to live. Hopefully that will be in the warm and familiar surroundings of their communities in the rural South."