Local entities respond to Kirby layoffs

Kirby Building Systems - a Nucor subsidiary that operates at the former Gulf States property off Airport Road - announced on Wednesday it had moved its production operations to Tennessee, laying off 100 workers in Starkville (Photo by Ryan Phillips/SDN)

Dozens are now out of work following a Starkville manufacturer shifting its production operations to another state, but several local leaders and workforce development officials are confident the transition for affected employees will be made easier by opportunities already available in the region.

Kirby Building Systems, which operates under the Nucor Corporation brand at the former Gulf States plant on Airport Road, announced roughly 100 employees would be let go on Wednesday after the parent company decided to move production to Portland, Tennessee.

Nucor spokesperson Katherine Miller declined a series of follow up questions concerning the future of the Starkville plant on Thursday, but told the Starkville Daily News on Wednesday the company had resources in place locally to help assist employees affected by the layoffs.

“Anytime this happens you feel for the families effected,” said Greater Starkville Development Partnership CEO Scott Maynard on Thursday. “As a community we are in a much better position today than we would have been 20 years ago.”

Golden Triangle Development Link Chief Operating Officer Macaulay Whitaker said it was still too early to comment on what role their organization could play in helping to place affected workers and deferred questions about the issue to Nucor.

Maynard also said it was still too soon to know how the GSDP would be able to contribute, but said between the other manufacturing facilities in the region, opportunities with the university and growth in the Thad Cochran Research Park, hopefully many of the workers can be absorbed. 

“EMCC provides excellent training opportunities as well and has strong relationships with our local industrial partners,” Maynard said.


Michael Busby, associate dean of instruction with EMCC, said the university has over 30 career technical programs, along with a wide variety of associates degrees and certificates geared toward giving a prospective employee the right credentials for a new career.

“(Programs offered at EMCC) would definitely translate to jobs in this area on the manufacturing and career-tech side to help folks,” Busby said.

EMCC Workforce Director Carey Butler told the Starkville Daily News on Thursday the school doesn’t know yet if the state will step in and provide funding to help train and place impacted workers and said it was too soon to tell what action the state would take.

“It usually takes a little while, so we have not actually been told what the state funding is going to be to help these folks is,” Butler said. “Normally, when we have a place lay people off there is some help, but it’s a little too early to even know what they might be or what it might look like.”

While it may still be up in the air just how EMCC will handle any interested employees from Kirby Building Systems, the success of the school’s career technical programs can be traced back to when Bryan Foods in West Point closed down in the early 2000s.

“When Bryan Foods closed down … we got a big flux of people who came in, but whenever there are a lot of people involved we saw more people at one point,” Butler said.


A crucial offering for those looking to get back into the workforce can be found at the WIN Job Center in both Mayhew and West Point.

“That’s what’s so great about our campus, we’ve got the WIN Job Center here and have the training available to them as well, so we can help put them on the right pathway, depending on where they would like to go,” Butler said.

Butler also nodded to the importance of personal preference when looking to start a new career. For some, who have worked in a specific job field for decades, the prospect of leaving what’s familiar for a new career can be both challenging and rewarding.

“It really depends on the individual and if someone is hungry to get right back into the workforce and they will take advantage of coming in, those are the people that are usually successful,” Butler said. “We will have others who may wait a year before they try to do something. Some people are intimidated because they’ve been out of school for 40 years and the thought of them having to go back and take something is frightening.”

Busby agreed, saying relearning skills or learning something different sometimes is a challenge for some depending on their experience and what they want out of their career.

“If they change directions completely, it can be a bit of a barrier,” Busby said. “Other than that, I think (the challenge is) identifying the right track or right field. That’s the most important thing.”

To highlight the different opportunities found at EMCC for those looking for a career change, Busby said the school offers a business marketing management program, computer networking technology, culinary arts, electrical technology programs, landscape turf management, medical billing and coding, and other career training opportunities that translate back into openings in the local economy.

Credentials are important, too, for those looking to transition into a new career. For many, something as simple as getting a high school diploma or equivalency can open the door for many opportunities.

Butler said there are some state-funded programs that will help students while they are working on their GED to actually get another skill.

“Up until about two years ago, they had to have the GED or high school diploma before they could even start on a skill path,” Butler said. “But there is a program called MI-BEST they can work through that, so our first goal is to always get them with some kind of high school equivalency certificate.”

Over the last 10 years, Butler said educators have learned that if they can get people to work on getting a silver level on the WorkKeys test, then that provides another item to put on resumes that make them more marketable.

The ACT WorkKeys test is a skills assessment test geared toward those looking for employment with companies that place an emphasis on the National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC).

The WorkKeys test is $50 at EMCC and the school also offers free GED prep.

“You don’t have to invest a lot of money to get any credentials,” Butler said.

From 2016-2017, Workforce Services at EMCC provided 88,530 hours of workforce training to 5,125 participants.

For students who want to go a non-credit route, which is covered under EMCC’s workforce classes, then prospective students can sign up for classes like Manufacturing Skills - Basic.

The Division of Manufacturing Technology & Engineering at EMCC also provides workforce training programs in the following fields: advanced manufacturing skills, avionics & cabling, certified medical coding, certified nursing assistant, computer, computer aided design, composite, construction, electrical, forklift/logistics, HVAC, leadership and team building training, machining, pharmacy technician, phlebotomy, truck driving and welding.

“Again, it just depends on what the person’s interest is and what they like to do,” Butler said.