Why Workforce Training Center Never Came to Metrocenter

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Workforce training is something politicians talk about all the time.

In 2018, Mississippi had an almost state-of-the-art facility located inside the Metrocenter Mall itself.

Nearly 4 years later, there is no evidence that these plans have ever moved forward.

So plans for major development, in a part of the city that desperately needed it, became plans for nowhere again.

In 2009, Jackson businessmen pooled their resources and created Retro Metro. Their goal was to invest by buying part of the Metrocenter shopping center.

Socratese Garrett was one of those businessmen.

“While we knew the Metrocenter area was deteriorating, we believed that if we could bring this anchor back to life and vibrancy, we would have others following this path,” Garrett said.

But that didn’t happen. Retro Metro owns the portion of the mall that houses the City of Jackson’s water utility, but their plans were more ambitious.

In 2018, Hinds Community College announced a joint venture with the City of Jackson, the Board of Aldermen, the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District Workforce Training Center and more.

The idea was to create a center, according to the Hinds Community website, to house multiple technical and vocational training programs aimed at both high-tech training and intermediate skills education. It was to be housed inside the Metrocenter mall.

“We decided to build a training center and one-stop shop that would have been a model for central Mississippi and was federally mandated,” Garrett said. “After three years of negotiations with Hinds and thinking we were able to close every day, after getting approval from our banks and Mike Booker at BancorpSouth and others, we thought we were on the right track. way. There was, however, a small obstacle. that we have not taken into consideration. And unfortunately, those people who were decision makers, who were key decision makers, are no longer here today. We lost Clyde Muse and we lost Chad Stock. As they tried to move forward, their board rejected the concept.

Garrett says the idea wasn’t rejected because of where it would be located, but rather because of who would do the work.

“The reason the board rejected this is that we were going to use minority contractors,” Garrett said. “And it was going to be a $12-15 million build. And the council didn’t want to see minority contractors doing the construction because their council is full of contractors.

Garrett says that wasn’t the end of the one-stop shop.

“Then Hinds, after failing to negotiate with Retro Metro, began negotiating with Bishop Ronnie Crudup at New Horizon Church under the same principle,” he said.

The concept was the same as before, he said, but once Hinds’ board figured out who would do the job, they declined.

“They didn’t take into account that Socrates Garrett, a Retro Metro partner, was also a member of New Horizons Church,” Garrett said. “And also a very close ally and friend of Bishop Ronnie Crudup. So when they got to this scenario, Bishop Crudup told them Garrett Enterprises would do the construction…and off they went.

Garrett says his company is more than capable of handling the construction and building that would be required for the Hinds project.

But he says rather than work with a minority entrepreneur, specifically him, Hinds opted to drop the One Stop Shop idea.

“They left twice, and it wasn’t going to cost them any money. It was subsidized and funded by Hinds County and they returned the money. $3 million of money the county gave them, they gave it back rather than make this deal.

Hinds Community College President Stephen Vacik spoke to us about the Workforce Training Centre. He only became college president in 2020 and says he can’t talk about what happened in 2018. Since this venture was first announced, Hinds has not only been replaced by new management, several board members were replaced.

Vacick said. the school has a bidding process in place that focuses on choosing the best person for any job, regardless of race.

“Throughout the bidding process, but to take the best bid, I think that’s key,” Vacik said. “We will work with whoever is the best. We feel very lucky in a few renders that we’ve already done on this project that we’ve been able to work with the Durrell company and Greg Durrell, one of the architects in town who’s doing fabulous work, great work for the college and is a minority. We want to make sure that we give opportunities to everyone. The HCC is the most diverse institution in the United States. I mean, I’m going to stake my reputation on it.

Garrett says the decision didn’t bring him down.

“We are not discouraged, downcast or sitting around crying and complaining about this. I think it needs to be talked about because Mississippi needs, and Jackson, this area needs a one-stop shop,” Garrett said.

Funding was also a huge issue for this project.

Retro Metro officials say then-Lt. Governor Tate Reeves promised them millions in bonds.

But once Reeves became governor, the money instead went to projects on the Gulf Coast.

All is not dead with the Workforce Training Facility. Hinds officials say they are currently looking to move the facility directly to their Jackson campus.

Dr. Vacik says the location on Medgar Evers would absolutely serve this community and the entire state.

The project would be built in two phases, but he says that remains his number one priority.

County officials are supportive of the effort, and Vacik says once adequate funding is established, they will move forward.

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Milton S. Rodgers