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2/21/12 - CAVS Extension wins economic development honor

Mississippi State's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension is a major honoree of the Mississippi Economic Development Council.

The university's Canton-based office recently accepted the Community Economic Development Award for its work with Nissan at its auto assembly plant in central Mississippi. The MEDC recognition specifically cited the "Enhancing On-the-Job Problem Solving" training program.

"MEDC is proud to honor this outstanding community and the people who have been involved in the planning and implementation of this worthwhile project," said council executive director Carol Hardwick. "We applaud their commitment to excellence in moving their communities forward."

The training program is an example of MSU's commitment to service, said Clay Walden, CAVS Extension director and a research professor at the land-grant institution.

"CAVS Extension and the university as a whole are actively engaged in the lives of Mississippians," he said. "This recent work with Nissan is a perfect example of the assistance we can provide, as well as the partnerships we develop with employers in the state."

Walden accepted the award at the Jackson conference. He was joined by CAVS Extension business systems and information technology manager Robert Sheely, who nominated the project for the MEDC recognition.

The project also is being submitted to the Southern Economic Development Council for regional competition.

CAVS Extension is a major unit of the Engagement and Outreach Service at MSU's Bagley College of Engineering, which developed and delivered the training program with CAVS Extension and Holmes Community College, whose primary service area includes Central Mississippi.

In addition to more than 400 employees at Nissan's Canton facility, it provided skills training for the vehicle manufacturers' in-state suppliers and related high-growth companies.

As the training program began, an initial analysis revealed that only 5.8 percent of Mississippi's automotive workers possessed higher-order skills--a rate well short of the 10.5 percent national average. To help overcome the gap, the coalition provided instruction through a three-phase curriculum: instrumentation and diagnostics, problem-solving methodologies and teaming topics.

Bagley faculty and researchers trained students to use specialized data-gathering equipment and analysis software. CAVS Extension provided specialized problem-solving training and spawned projects, with ongoing coaching, to solve chronic "live, on-the-job" problems from students' companies. Holmes enhanced students' communication, leadership and collaboration skills.

"The initiative was well received by Nissan and its suppliers, and has improved the problem-solving skills throughout the automotive industry," said Bob Mullins, Nissan senior training manager.

The Mississippi Development Authority and Mississippi Department of Employment Security shared oversight responsibilities for the 15-month project that was competitively funded by a $660,000 federal stimulus grant administered by MDES.

To date, more than 60 percent of those who completed training have received a wage increase. In a three-year period, over 59 projects have been accomplished, with resulting savings of $2,019,000 a year, representing an 8:1 return on the initial investment.

"This project was the best use of stimulus funds of any project I am aware of in the nation," said MDES executive director Les Range.

David Shaw, MSU's vice president for research and economic development, said, "As the state's economy grows and diversifies, our researchers and resources are playing vital roles.

"Working to meet the needs of business and industry is a clearly-defined priority of the university, and we are proud of the excellent work being done by the CAVS Extension team," Shaw added.

Jim Laird | University Relations

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