At what might have been an uneventful Pine Bluff City Council committee meeting this past week, the news broke that a company with a location in Clarksdale, Miss., was wanting to rent the old Bank of America building, take up residence there and create what could grow into 300 jobs.
It was one of those "did we hear that correctly?" moments.
At the Development and Planning Committee meeting, Allison Thompson, president and CEO of the Economic Development Alliance for Jefferson County, said she had been working with the company, PeopleShores, for several months, getting up to speed on what it does and how that would fit in to what Pine Bluff and the region can offer.
"This will have a greater scope and impact than something that stops at the city limits," Thompson told the gathering. "I visited their facility in Clarksdale, Miss., a couple of times and have seen this is the real deal -- a very quality business with quality employees and services that they offer."
Mayor Shirley Washington said she too had visited the Clarksdale location and come away impressed. She said that while she was there, she was looking over the expanse of workers, and one of the employee's phones rang. On the other end was someone from New York who needed help with their child's virtual learning.
"It was amazing to me," she said.
One might assume that a company that is interested in doing high-tech work would land someplace known for a high-tech workforce. And while that might be the case in most instances, that is not how PeopleShores rolls. Officials there actually look in the other direction, at underserved areas and populations.
"We want to bring Silicon Valley jobs to the Delta," said Darryl Pieroni, business development and regional manager for the business.
And if one can believe some of the Clarksdale employees, that is what PeopleShores has done. Our reporter, Eplunus Colvin, reached out to some of them for a follow-up story and came away moved by the way they spoke of their employer.
People who had been working at menial jobs for not much money and who then went to work for PeopleShores described the workplace and their bosses as life-altering forces.
"My life changed during this period because I became certified in Automation Anywhere in versions 10 and 11, one person said. "PeopleShores flew me and my co-worker to Dallas where we both received our RPA Trainer's certification. I became team lead of the RPA team where I oversee bot development for businesses local and nationwide."
Again, from Mayor Washington:
"Some of the people that they pick up are homeless and they give them the training so that they can feel valued. They are giving them skilled jobs that they can carry anywhere in the country."
One of the company managers was quoted in a national publication, saying: "With a lot of these people, we believe that if we train them and give them the right skills, we're pretty confident that they will succeed."
Certainly, one of the goals that many leaders in Pine Bluff have is to get more technical training for the population so that we as a community are ready when a business that needs technical workers comes calling. That push has been going on for some time now, and having a PeopleShores in our midst, actually taking people and training them up in the way that the business needs them, can only enhance what the city has to offer.
Consequently, we believe we speak for many in saying that the news was splendid, and we look forward to the day when we can welcome PeopleShores to town.