Education & Motivation
Businessman, Clarksdale, Mississippi
It all goes back to education.
- Successful manufacturing in the Delta
- Education and motivation is the key.
- Will importing skilled workers help?
- Top Down and Bottom Up
- Successful programs
- Enterprise Corporation for the Delta and Kellogg
- The Foundation of the Mid South
- What is the one thing that foundations need to do differently to be successful?
“As a relative newcomer to the Delta, I’m from Massachusetts and Maine, I came here to start a company some 20 years ago. The Delta Wire Corporation, which has become a very successful corporation here in Clarksdale, has also become very innovative and has had articles written about it in national publication.
When I came here to start a company and being from New England originally, I was certainly very culturally inept. I didn’t do what was done, I did what I thought I should do. When I started this company and started to do some things that were very innovative, and very successful, essentially we felt that we had to have an educated and empowered work force. And by empowered I mean very motivated and also very deeply involved. So we did some things that were somewhat unusual at the time, and kind of a profit sharing type of thing. Any results from their efforts were above those which would be conceived as normal, and was always replicated from the employee’s style of work force education when work force education was unheard of at the time. Many people had an average education of about the 3rd or 4th grade level. When I spoke to some people in Jackson, I told them of this need for work force education and wondered how it could be improved. They asked me what I had in mind. That was the beginning of my involvement with the community colleges.”
“The company doing the debt of our work force education as well as the importance of the participation of the employee’s involvement and employee reward has become very successful. That work has been successful probably because they managed to get people very involved. It worked admirably, it has been nationally acknowledged for working admirably, and maybe that’s the answer I want to give you. Maybe the criteria for success of these programs is mostly how involved you get the people into the project. I guess the involvement on the ground is a lot of the criteria for success. The local involvement is very important. You need to get people who are actually participants involved and if you can make sense to those people, who are generally uninvolved in the economic system, if you can get them to be active participants who are active and working, then your program will most likely succeed. The closer you can get to the every day person and their concerns, the closer your likelihood of success is.”
“I think a number of programs come from universities and are very scholarly, but where the difference is actually going to be made in the Delta is through progress in the average person on the street. Many people, particularly in the Mississippi Delta, are generally uneducated and have very high drop out rates. How do you bring two things into a world of high school drop outs? Number 1-How do you bring economic developments out of a very sophisticated and competitive world unless you have confidence in working? It’s pretty hard to be confident unless you have at lot of education. High school drop outs at fifteen and mothers at sixteen aren’t going to be very technologically competent workers. It’s impossible, it can’t work. So immediately it all goes back to education.”
If you can blend education as needed, I’m not saying we need all educated people, or people who are sociologically prepared to go to work every day. Motivation comes from seeing a sense of hope, perhaps. One thing that is greatly desired for in the Delta, not all of the time, but most of the time, is a role-model, a total learning experience. And to answer your question, I think that anyone who wants to improve the conditions of the Delta have to get pretty close to Grass-roots. I know one foundation I’m involved with has decided that they want to do something in the Delta, and rather than come in and set up their own organization and headquarters, they’ve gone to a foundation that has already had success in working in the Delta, and have said we want to come in with X amount of million dollars, but we’ve looked at it, and you guys who are essentially very successful and have good criteria and are succeeding, we can come together and the name of the foundation will be changed to incorporate us both, but you still get your share.”
“One of our big problems in the Delta is our lack of Registered Nurses. There is a high unemployment rate, much more so among females than in males. A good case of odd employment is that many times hospitals reach to the Phillippines for nurses, when there are several people here who qualify. The job is good, good money, good benefits and yet there is still a shortage.”
“I was recruited from Massachusetts 20 years ago. They ask about how to get a training program for our work force started, and you’d better have an answer ready or you can forget completely about them coming. They talked about tax breaks, etc. Essentially we transitioned from an agricultural economy and even since I’ve been here which is only 20 years, if you had a plantation and about 30 houses off behind that plantation which were for the whole families of the farm workers, and there were people who never left the farm. They never went to school, they got married and died there. And then all of a sudden the cotton picker was invented in Clarksdale, which caused a huge sociological development in the Delta. The government said to build housing projects, and that was that. Then as employment opportunities opened, and some did, it became a case of having a lot of people who had never gone to school, had a lack of basic literacy, and lacked a simple basic education.”
“Well, the Philippines do have an RN program, so in that direction I agree. As for the Mexicans, I’m sure the reason they are being brought in is because they are hard and diligent workers, who not only have a basic education, but some also have further than that. Delta Wire started out working with people who had a normal 3rd grade education. In starting and continuing the program with hundreds of satellites, we now have an average of 150 employees with an average of 8 or 9,000 farms in Japan and Europe 3 years in a row, for instance. We won the Best in Class worldwide from Goodyear for our products. We were up against the Japanese, Belgians and Koreans, and we were just using our work force, so I don’t entirely believe that because I’ve been there and done that. ”
“That’s why I believe Number 1- the case is not hopeless at all, Number 2- it can be done, and education is the key, even a high school diploma. How do you get these people educated to fit into the world’s economy? If you’re dealing with a company that’s competing with the rest of the world with the very best of intentions, they still don’t want to lose. They can love each other and pat each other on the back, but if they can’t compete with the Japanese or whoever they’re competing with, they’ll be out of business in 3 months. So somehow the workforce has to be with the world class intelligence. That’s not what I want, that’s not what I think is for the best, but that’s the hard, cold world.”
“Whenever I say education, I mean not only a basic education, but at least an associates degree in whatever field. We need to take these people who can do basic reading, writing and arithmetic, and get them into the pro-quo of the working world. Until we do that, it will be very challenging and difficult to get any new jobs into the area. Everything is challenging. Everything used to be more muscle bound, but now it is all about computer knowledge. Being able to push a specific button and have another thing happen. It wouldn’t take me long to figure it out, but I’ve been in the business for awhile. And I don’t know of any industry that isn’t that way anymore. Perhaps you might think that industry is just old fashioned, but in banking, retail, anything, what do you have to know? ”
“I don’t know a lot about Arkansas, but what I do know is that Arkansas’ Delta isn’t very different from the Mississippi Delta. In Louisiana, this foundation of which I’m on the executive board for, works in the Arkansas Delta, Mississippi Delta and the Louisiana Delta. They’re called the ECD, and I think that is where all the foundations and changes are going to be. I hear about or see these foundations who come in straight from the universities, and that’s just fine. When you’re at the end of a chain, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
“The reason I’m into community colleges is that I was a chairman on the state board for 7 years, and on the board for 11 years, and I went through work force training and things worked so well that I became a believer. I don’t think that anyone can become as much of a believer as someone who has actually went through it, and they’re not just basing their opinions on ideas but more on credibility through experience. Education, even on just a basic level, is very important. It would be nice to have people with bachelor degrees or masters, or even Ph.D.’s, but unfortunately that isn’t the case.”
“If you can’t get the kids to read or write or do arithmetic, then it doesn’t matter what the education level is. You have to lift the whole level and do it as fast as you can. You don’t want to lose out on a generation. You have to lift the whole level but in specific, you have to lift those that are a bit more sophisticated.”
“You were talking about businessmen not wanting to come here unless they possess the basic skills. In your case, educated workers weren’t here, yet you still came.”
“Well, see it was a different world, a totally different world, in 1982. The level of industry, no matter which industry, was developed on muscles and hard working people. Now about 98% of the industry is based on education. There is no industry where you can compete now without an educated work force. It would be nice if they had a total education, but with a minimum education you would need an education specific to the needs of the job, which is impossible if you don’t have the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. So that’s where it is. I think in the Delta, what we have to do is encourage public education more. First I think we need to carry out education more through the community colleges. In Mississippi, technology preparation is becoming a fast track to the future for students. We are getting students who leave and make more money from the education we have given them than they would be making with an education from a University.”
“I teach an hour and a half long class every Monday at the public high school. My motivation there is essentially to keep these kids in school. ‘Don’t get pregnant.’ ‘Don’t join the gang.’ ‘Don’t hang out on the street corner.’ ‘Don’t get thrown into jail.’ That’s what I preach to them. I bring them something like a lecture every week. My method is very simple. We can go get some books who say this is what is wrong, and this is how to fix it. It’s good intentioned and correct, but that’s not the way that the rubber meets the glue. You know what made me an expert? I have a degree in engineering, so why am I giving you a sociology lesson?”
“I can’t give you an exact number, but Delta Wire has been at least 75 % ran by African Americans before. At any given time there were never any more than 2 white people in comparison with the 4-5 African Americans. The supervisors were black with white people working under them. I think that this whole racist thing will work itself out with people. You may think me or a fool or a hypocrite for this, but if you were black, I would not see that you were black. I honestly do not see black or white. We were all very lucky to have been born, and to take it for granted because of hate is just a complete waste. I was a supervisor at the company for so long perhaps I just started to see everyone the same. But the whole putting together of races is not going to work unless absolutely everyone cooperates, which is never going to happen.”
We’ve heard a big problem is that too many foundations come in with the whole ‘Top Down’ approach. You know, they have all the answers, they’ve never been to the Delta, and don’t know anybody here. What we need is more autonomy for the local organizations. On the other hand, there are other people who said that they knew what were good corporations, that they should just hand over the money and butt out. So how do we get the balance between autonomy of programs that are responsive to local natives, and guidelines of some sort?”
“You need to have a say in it. I think there’s a temptation tied into the University program, and I think it’s unfair. I was in a foundation where they dealt with Arkansas, and their secret was that they had a board of directors who were black or white, male or female, educated or non educated. It’s accessible and well rounded. I think good things can happen in the Delta, I really do. I think good things are already happening, and I think it all goes back essentially to the Grass Roots.”
“Well, definitely this Work Force Alliance for one. They set up 3 or 4 Work Force Alliance meetings which are always successful. People say equal demographic participation , and I’m not saying black or white, male or female, I’m talking education. I think that it has been very successful. I think it has partially been so successful due to equalized opportunity. The first main objective of an industry or company is to provide employment for the minority females.”
“What Kellog decided was what would be more effective than putting in their own money would be to put their money in but have it administered by a company already in the Delta. Someone who has a staff, is on the ground, has a track record, and who has an office, etc. I think that individual communities, when it comes to specific items, have to do their own thing. As far as foundations, there’s a lot of good being done, and there’s a lot of good that needs to be done. This is like tackling a gigantic tree with a tiny toy axe. It’s a long way to go. My family and I feel that there is hope, there is action, that things are, little by little, getting better. If I didn’t have hope I wouldn’t be here. Seriously.”
“People have to see success to envision that they themselves can have success. We can stand there and tell those kids all of that good advice, but it’s all words to them. To be a teenager and see an older sibling succeeding and having a good life, that’s motivation.”
“This land is some of the best in the world, so if you’ve got it, why not useit? First of all, we need to start consulting counties on their overall plan. Secondly, our county has taken over our 50 mile railroad which goes from somewhere over next to the main line, by Greenwood and on through Clarksdale before being abandoned. Our county has quite a bit of money due to the casino, and we talked them into giving that railroad up. So we now have a county that owns a 50 mile railroad. They have now started to operate it, and that alone will encourage people because of how important transportation is when you’re dealing with agriculture. We feel like that is going to open us up to agricultural processing. There are several jobs here for agricultural processing here in this area. One thing is how many jobs would be lost if we didn’t have that railroad. What I think about the agriculture is that God gave us a surplus, why not take advantage of it? I don’t think there’s any exclusive place between industry and agriculture. Why would industry not want agriculture or agriculture not want industry? I don’t see any exclusive issues in it at all.”
One thing we were told was that some of the basic problems we’ve got are people who don’t take advantage of their jobs and realize that they have to show up everyday to work.
“Well, that’s education. And expectations. Delta Wire ran 7 days a week, full shift. At Delta Wire we never had people really show up late for work. Why? Let me tell you. Because we respected them, appreciated them, rewarded them, paid them. There was also chances of opportunity depending on productivity and reliability. We never had a real problem with having to lay people off. People respond to what they have in front of them.”
“I can say to the extent that they do have a program in Clarksdale, the Work Force Alliance, which I am co-chairman for and one of the founders of, and I would say that it is not Top- Down. On the ground it is not Top- Down. If you have a foundation for the Delta, I don’t understand why you don’t have the headquarters in the Delta. But as I said I am more of an iconoclast, I don’t always talk the talk.” “The Delta Council is extremely effective with agriculture. They send their executive director to Washington 3 days a week. They are perhaps more involved with economic development, but they still have a presence. 80 % of their membership dues and money come from agriculture.”
“I think you have to have participation of all sectors. It has to be largely supported. I think you have to involve the employer. It could involve people playing down the street, at the store, anywhere. I think we have to involve the business community, which I think is very critical. Generally if the business community is left out, chances of succeeding are very slim. Chances are that those people have a certain say so in many important things, so you definitely want to be on their good side.”