Above: Among those attending the Dec. 7 ribbon-cutting ceremony were, from left, Board of Trustees President Paul Breazeale; Ryan Miller, Executive Director of the Mississippi Office of Workforce Development for AccelerateMS; Dr. Robin Parker, Workforce Director for the Central Mississippi Planning & Development District; Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs; Dr. Jeff Holland, vice president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, who was one of the organizers; Vicksburg Warren School District Superintendent Chad Shealy, a Hinds trustee; Hinds President Dr. Stephen Vacik; Kelle Barfield, president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors; Hinds Vice President Sherry Bellmon and Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg.
To a standing-room-only audience, Hinds unveiled a training center on Dec. 7 that will take entrepreneurship and industry training in Vicksburg to a higher level with leading-edge technology, including virtual reality.
Hinds’ Emerging Technologies Training Center is among what will be several entities in the Mississippi Center for Innovation & Technology (MCITy) on Washington Street in Vicksburg when it is fully operational in spring 2023.
The training center houses an Industry 4.0 lab, a Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality Lab and a Workforce/Multipurpose Lab supported by collaborations with technology companies like FESTO, EON Reality, and Lobaki.
Hinds Associate Vice President of Workforce David Creel said the focus for the Center is high-end, advanced technology training. “It was important to us that we did not duplicate what we are already doing on our Vicksburg Campus,” he said. “We wanted the Center and its programs to be additional resources that would aid in the enhancement of individual skills. We also want to use this technology to introduce new career opportunities to job seekers within this community.”
“A project like this does not happen without many partners. Along with the college administration and support from the Board of Trustees, we were able to secure multiple funding sources and organizations to help make this day happen,” Creel added.
One of the funding partners in the project is AccelerateMS, a state workforce organization that works with local entities to enhance workforce training.
“Hinds Community College is one of those partners that I think does it (workforce training) better than anyone else in the state of Mississippi. They pour themselves into their community and into the people that live within their region, trying to help them where they are and give them hope,” said Ryan Miller, Executive Director of the Mississippi Office of Workforce Development for AccelerateMS.
He predicted the Emerging Technologies Training Center will open up “new and exciting career pathways” that workers never knew existed.
“It’s facilities and ideas like this that are going to make Vicksburg stronger and make the future for residents in this area, and arguably for the entire state, much richer,” Miller said. “These new, innovative approaches help Mississippians have those skills necessary to be profitable, to be healthier, to be financially independent, to have a foundation that allows them to grow and also to be a positive impact on the people around them.”
Dr. Robin Parker, Workforce Director for the Central Mississippi Planning & Development District, said the Center is a “seed of inspiration.”
“Hope alone does not make things happen; you must plant the seed and make it happen. The power of a simulated environment is incredible in the world of education, and the will have a great impact on the future workforce,” she said.
Kelle Barfield, president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, said her background working for Grand Gulf Nuclear Plant in Port Gibson allows her to see that “the power of a simulated environment is just incredible in terms of learning, in terms of training and professional development.
“In terms of safety, what Hinds is doing here is taking that simulated environment to a virtual environment. This doesn’t replicate what already exists. This enables the instructors and students to envision what might be, and that’s the sweet spot of people wanting to go into the workplace and be relevant,” she said.
Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, who graduated from Hinds with an associate degree in industrial technology, said he is excited about the opportunities the Center will bring to surrounding school districts.
“This is the beginning of a future that began as a vision,” Flaggs said. “We are so grateful for this opportunity in the city of Vicksburg. I am thrilled to be a part of this great transformation that will impact the lives of Mississippians.”
The Center will leverage its partnership with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), an internationally renowned science and technology organization, as a catalyst for economic development and engage in focused workforce development to meet the needs of the significant technology organizations of the central Mississippi and Vicksburg regions.
“Our vision for the future is to create a competitive economy and a compelling culture, and I think MCITy will enable us to do that,” Hinds President Dr. Stephen Vacik said.
MCITy was the key component of the 2018 economic development plan the Vicksburg Warren Partnership developed with the city and the Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce.
“MCITy is our first step in developing and training skilled individuals to take on professions that will move Mississippi to the next level,” said Dr. Jeff Holland, vice president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors, who was one of the organizers.
“Jobs in science and technology pay a minimum of two and a half times more than the average salary in any state. In this county, the average salary for science and technology jobs is closer to $79,000 per year, while the average in other professions is $31,000,” Holland said.