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Workforce Success Story Submitted By:
Workforce Investment Board of Southwest Missouri

Umicore Opticals

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Workforce Challenge

When a high-tech materials company, Umicore Opticals (Umicore), decided to expand its germanium wafer production in the U.S., its search led it to three cities. Two considerations, Phoenix and Albuquerque, were not surprising, but one potential selection was off the beaten path in the tiny town of Quapaw, Oklahoma (pop. 966). Umicore knew that the cost of doing business would be far lower in Quapaw, but it needed proof that the surrounding region could provide the necessary workforce for the new plant.

Workforce Solution

Judee Snoderlee, the Economic Development Director for the Miami, OK, area recognized that a lack of workforce availability could be a huge barrier to relocation for for Umicore. Judee decided to tap the workforce boards for data and support. Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas form the only four-state WIRED (Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development) region in the U.S. and they work collaboratively on providing workforce data and implementing workforce solutions. Snodderly was able to draw upon a diverse array of experience, expertise, and resources through the lead Workforce Investment Board (WIB) in Southwest Missouri. By using EMSI's Strategic Advantage the WIB quickly answered site selectors' questions about detailed industry workforce projections. The WIB enhanced the available workforce pool by analyzing occupations compatible to Umicore.

Outcomes & Benefits

The WIB's efforts helped demystify the labor market and demonstrate the potential to increase the skills of the existing labor pool. Due to this new found knowledge, Umicore decided to invest more than $50 million, and create more than 150 new jobs, in rural Northeast Oklahoma. "Having the data made all the difference," said Snoderlee. Workforce availability was number one on the site selector's list, but without the detailed data, we would have had no way of proving that our regional workforce was sufficiently skilled and available," according to Snoderlee.

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