Howell County earns Work Ready status, celebrates two key workforce initiatives

April 12, 2016

West Plains, Mo.—The Missouri Department of Economic Development (DED) today announced Howell County has achieved designation as a Certified Work Ready Community (CWRC). The ceremony was held at the location that will become Missouri State University-West Plains’ new Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Technology (GOCAT).

“I applaud Howell County’s concerted efforts to align area workforce skills with what employers are looking for in a new hire,” said Mike Downing, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development. “The CWRC demonstrates national competitiveness, and will help in attracting advanced manufacturing businesses to this community.”

The CWRC designation, made by American College Testing (ACT), aligns workforce training programs with the economic development needs of communities, matches appropriate applicants to jobs based on skill level, and strengthens businesses by strengthening the workforce.

“The designation will help us boost economic growth in Howell County,” said Robert Case, economic development director of the City of West Plains. “We see the value in the CWRC for aligning a ready-made workforce with current employers and those we aim to attract in the area.”

Manufacturing is vital to Howell County’s economy, and this had led to the new GOCAT initiative, a specialized training center aimed at providing advanced, hands-on manufacturing training to individuals looking for technical skills. As a joint effort among Missouri State University-West Plains, the South Central Career Center and the City of West Plains, GOCAT’s certifications and two-year degrees are designed to match the skills needed by employers to fill high-wage, high-skill positions in Missouri’s growing advanced manufacturing industry.

Between 2010 and 2014, Missouri’s advanced manufacturing industry grew by over 16,000 jobs. Today, over 8,400 Missouri businesses employ over 177,000 in advanced manufacturing occupations.

“The vision for the advanced technology center is to provide technical training for high-demand skills needed by the 21st Century advanced manufacturing industry,” Case said. “The center will add flow of these specialized workers to the area’s workforce pipeline.

Discussions for the GOCAT emerged in 2015 during a Feels Like Home Tour in West Plains hosted by the Missouri Department of Economic Development and Missouri Community Betterment. The tour brings together a team of experts in a number of fields including energy, tourism and site selection to provide Missouri communities with insight into what each must do in order to grow and stake a claim in the next-generation economy.

The new GOCAT building will provide approximately 16,000 sq. ft. of learning space including four classrooms, a large shop area with six bay doors, a computer lab and more.

The center’s first students begin this fall, and those interested in enrolling can contact Missouri State University-West Plains.

The complementary workforce initiatives put not only Howell County but also south central Missouri in a good position to continue attracting and retaining business investment and job creation.

Additionally, last week, the Ozarks Small Business Incubator in West Plains was approved for $50,000 from the state’s Small Business Incubator Tax program, which is designated to generate private funds to provide a fostering environment for startups.

In 2012, Missouri was selected to be one of the first four states to participate in the CWRC initiative, and in 2013, Jasper County became the first CWRC in the nation. Missouri now has 75 counties that are actively participating in the CWRC initiative and 25 fully-certified counties.

In the past two months, one half-dozen Missouri counties have celebrated certification as work ready communities.

The CWRC designation was accomplished through the efforts of the South Central Workforce Investment Board, the City of West Plains, the South Central Career Center, West Plains R-7 Schools, West Plains Chamber of Commerce, Howell County, Missouri State University-West Plains, South Central Career Center, Ozarks Medical Center, Air Medical Group Holdings, South Central Missouri Workforce Development Board, the Missouri Jobs Center and more.

CWRC status makes communities more attractive to businesses because it offers a feedback loop for what’s needed by different players in the dynamic 21st Century workforce. Specifically, benefits from CWRC certification include:

  • Workers better understand what skills are required by employers and how to prepare themselves for success.
  • Businesses can more effectively communicate their workforce needs to area education and workforce training programs.
  • Educators have better tools for closing any skill gaps by establishing career pathways for students with stackable industry-recognized credentials.
  • Economic development organizations are better equipped with an on-demand reporting tool to promote the quality of their workforce.

For more information about CWRC and how to apply for certification, visit


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