Choctaw Tribe Receives $5.8 Million Grant to Fund New Vocational Training Center

The Band of Choctaw Indians in Mississippi received a $5.8 million federal grant to build a new manpower training center to help tribal members hone their skills and combat labor shortages for jobs ranging from IT to healthcare.

The United States Economic Development Administration funded the grant through the American Rescue Plan Act’s Native Communities Program. Choctaw Economic Development Manager John Hendrix said the new 50,000 square foot Advanced Workforce Training Center will open in the Pearl River community in about a year, with hands-on equipment and computer labs covering skills ranging from electrical work to phlebotomy.

“It’s a game-changer for the next generation,” Hendrix said.

The tribe currently has a small center with a few classrooms, but Hendrix said the space doesn’t meet the growing demand for new business skills. The reserve alone supports about 5,000 workers.

“We have several vacancies,” Hendrix said. “We need healthcare workers and IT professionals. We have 3 million square feet of buildings and need professional technicians.

The facility will offer new job training and partner with a nearby community college for required certifications. It will also help current reservations employees learn new skills, such as management.

The center will also have a manufacturing space for advanced manufacturing skills and access to technology such as 3D printers. It will also support entrepreneurs and small businesses as a start-up incubator.

“We have undertaken many projects to help our community members prepare for a challenging and ever-changing job market,” Chief Cyrus Ben said in a statement. “This workforce training center is a key part of our strategy to increase the skills of our tribal members, whether they choose a career on or off our tribal lands.”

The Choctaw are the only federally recognized tribe in Mississippi with over 11,000 members on 34,000 acres in 10 counties.

Hendrix said more on-site training for in-demand jobs would give tribal members who aren’t interested in four-year colleges other options. The center will keep an eye on the skills needed for jobs on the reservation as well as what is in demand at nearby private businesses.

“It brings them closer to home,” he said, “and then after a 12-16 month program, they can have immediate job opportunities.”

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Milton S. Rodgers