58 INC. makes a difference, looks forward to even more

COLUMBIANA – Though 58 INC.’s initial efforts have focused on getting to know the communities and leaders in Shelby County, the fledgling organization has still made quite an impact.

“We’ve had an extremely busy year and half,” 58 INC. Director of Development Melody Whitten told those assembled for The Shelby County Chamber’s Connections Luncheon on Thursday, June 6, at Columbiana United Methodist Church.

Shelby County in 2018 saw four industry expansions, 10 expansions in progress, two new industries and 11 recruitments in progress, according to information presented by Whitten, who noted that industrial recruitment is different than retail in that it cannot be “chased.”

Instead, the county’s best approach is to be prepared for industrial growth so that it can take advantage when the time is right. An example was the relocation of McLeod Software from its Jefferson County location to the Meadow Brook Corporate Park, bringing 350 jobs into the county with plans to double that number in the near future.

Meanwhile, retail growth is chased daily, Whitten said, with results seen with the recent opening of a Sonic restaurant in Calera and a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of a future Burger King/Popeyes location Harpersville.

Regardless of the type of business, 58 INC. encounters one dominant issue in its “business retention and expansion” visits around the county.

“We have found that workforce development is the primary issue for everyone we visit,” Whitten said.

58 INC. workforce development initiatives include leadership skills training, Manufacturing Day, industry tours, apprenticeship programs and Ready to Work, which focuses on “soft skills” such as dependability, professionalism and more.

There still exists a gap in the understanding of students and parents about the career opportunities that exist outside of the traditional four-year-college path, Whitten said and added that only 20 percent of jobs today require such a degree.

Many of the 58 INC. programs are designed to highlight those opportunities.

“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Whitten said.