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Boomtown Houston County: A look at the community's growing industries

The Development Authority says at least 570 new manufacturing jobs will come to the county this year.

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — We're launching a new series called "Boomtown Houston County," to take a look at the growth in Houston County over the years and what might happen to the community in the future.

The Development Authority of Houston County says 220 new manufacturing jobs were added in 2019, and another 570 are already projected for 2020.

To fill those jobs, some companies are looking to tap young talent through the Houston County Career Academy.

"The growth in Houston County has candidly been a problem, because we don't have the skilled workforce," said Craig Hoffman, a plant engineer at Frito-Lay.

He says his company partnered with the school district three years ago to create the Industrial Maintenance Program. It allows students to learn all the skills they would need before entering the workforce.

"They come to our apprenticeship program, which is an eight-step program. They're required to learn on-the-job training where they're working 40 hours a week," said Hoffman.

He says they also must work toward an associate's degree during that time.

"You get everything to set you up, so you have the opportunity basically handed to you," said Veterans High School junior Samantha Boedicker.

She says she begged her school counselors to get her into the program after learning about all of the opportunities that come with it. Those opportunities also caught the attention of Veterans senior Justin Raymo.

"That really compelled me," he said. "I think it's a really good option for me to stay here and expand to see what I can do at Frito-Lay."

Hoffman says, so far, 17 students have come to work for the company after completing the program.

Several other industries in Houston County from HVAC to healthcare and engineering have also benefited from similar partnerships.

Kasey Osborn with Houston Healthcare says more people moving to the county translates to more patients. With that, she says, comes more job opportunities.

"We're trying to plant the seed early with the students, let them know that there's more than just scrubs in the hospital. There's more than just physicians and nurses. There are a lot of other careers that are what we call non-clinical jobs," she said.

Angie Gheesling, Executive Director of the Development Authority, says these partnerships are critical for job growth now, but the next step is anticipating what industries will need in the future.

"For us that means software," she said. "Our base is a Software Center of Excellence, so we want our region to be a software center of excellence as well."

She says that starts with partnerships like those at the Career Academy that plant the seed in K-12 programs, then foster the growth through area technical school and college programs.

She says the VECTR Center has also been a key tool for promoting growth. Gheesling says veterans come in from across the region for training and resources and many end up taking advantage of the opportunities available in Houston County.

MORE BOOMTOWN STORIES

Boomtown Houston County: Building the county's identity

Boomtown Houston County: What decades of growth looks like

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