Dothan Chamber champions

JEREMY WISE / DOTHAN EAGLE

Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Dean Mitchell (right) presents Bob Woodall of Bob Woodall Air Care Systems with an honor Wednesday for his company’s workforce development efforts.

The four businesses serve varied industries, but one designation united them Wednesday at the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce -- Champions.

Chamber officials, along with Southeast AlabamaWorks! leaders, honored Eye Center South, Higgins Electric, Wayne Farms, and Bob Woodall Air Care Systems as workforce development champions in an inaugural awards presentation. Each business earned a trophy with an emblem that represents their industry, like Higgins Electric’s working lamp fixture.

DACC executive director Dean Mitchell said chamber board chair Mary Beth Maddox and Southeast AlabamaWorks! director Ryan Richards developed the idea for the ceremony in an effort to honor businesses who have heavily invested in creating a skilled workforce.

“Low unemployment, good economy – finding good employees is tough, so you’ve got to take advantage of (available) programs,” Mitchell said. “You’ve got to take time and invest in programs that will work for you. These four companies have done that, and we wanted to celebrate that.”

“We all know how hard it is to find skilled labor these days,” Maddox added. “We stop to celebrate the individuals and businesses that found a way to make it happen. They are the kings and queens of GSD – Getting Stuff Done.”

The four companies created varied approaches to solving their current and potential labor shortages.

>> Eye Center South utilized work-based learning and on-the-job training programs through the Alabama Career Center while developing a job shadowing program with the Houston County Career Academy. One of the founding partners, Dr. Marnix Heersink, and his family have established a scholarship endowment at Wallace Community College for students interested in healthcare careers.

>> Higgins Electric developed the area’s first U.S. Department of Labor-certified apprenticeship program. Those in the program must log 2,000 hours of on-the-job training while taking more than 130 hours of online coursework each year during a four-year program, Richards said. During the program, apprentices receive raises every six months.

>> Wayne Farms employs about 1,300 workers in Dothan alone and more at a feed mill in Newton. Officials attend every industry meeting in an effort to support workforce initiatives, according to Matt Parker, DACC president. Additionally, Wayne Farms utilizes grant money to train employees in welding and motor control programs at Wallace Community College.

>> Bob Woodall Air Care Systems developed its own paid apprenticeship program earlier this year that provides for on-the-job training and classes at the All American Technician Academy near Atlanta. Apprentices also complete the Lennox HVAC Learning Solutions program. Woodall has also crafted partnerships with local schools to inform them about the program.

Workforce development officials plan on conducting the event annually and hope this year’s presentation encourages other businesses to invest in workforce development efforts.

“We hope this will inspire other companies to look at the programs that we have,” Mitchell said. “It does take time, it does take some resources, but we’re here to help. It will make a difference.”

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