Dwayne C. Sampson is president and CEO of Transportation Diversity Council.
Like many communities across the country, Anniston, Alabama has experienced acute economic hardship. Pre-pandemic, Calhoun County (where Anniston is located) enjoyed near record low unemployment, but the county’s unemployment currently sits at 6.9%, double what it was a year ago.
As the world continues to grapple with an unforgiving pandemic that has erased years of economic prosperity, we must own the fact that there will be no return to low unemployment and a prosperous economy without the economic inclusion of hardworking Alabamians.
Our national economy as well as our local economies will continue to stagnate and cease to grow unless we empower the underserved and those previously disenfranchised to enter the workforce and provide them with the necessary mentoring and up-skilling to advance in their careers.
After spending over two decades in the transportation industry, I can attest to the limited options nontraditional job seekers face when searching for a job that pays a decent living wage. The creation of the Transportation Diversity Council — built on the principles of service, professionalism, and visibility, stemmed from my frustration at the barriers imposed by poverty and institutional racism, but also from an unrelenting optimism to grow more pathways for success.
Long before COVID-19 hit, New Flyer of America, the largest bus manufacturer in the country, entrusted the Transportation Diversity Council with reconfiguring its current workforce development model. Anniston would be the first location to spearhead the effort as New Flyer of America wanted to do more for its employees and our partnership to make the Community Benefits Framework (CBF) a reality could not be more prescient. With COVID-19 upending the way we all network and hire, it has never been so important to ensure jobs are being filled with a skilled and diverse workforce — especially in communities like Anniston.
The outcome between TDC and New Flyer of America has resulted in an extremely comprehensive, industry-first, community-based organization partnership and workforce development program in Anniston. The partnerships and workforce development program formalize the commitment by New Flyer of America to provide opportunities for good employment and job training to underserved Alabamians. Organizations like East AlabamaWorks and others will work to bolster local efforts to provide mentoring, internships, motivation and hope for nontraditional students, veterans, the formerly incarcerated and women.
Since acquiring North American Bus Industries (NABI) in 2013, New Flyer of America has invested over $50 million in the Anniston facility by upgrading equipment and processes; investing extensively in workforce development, apprenticeship programs and training; integrating technology to manufacture zero-emission buses; and establishing the Vehicle Innovation Center in 2017. I had the privilege to visit the Anniston facilities early on this year, where over 700 people call New Flyer of America home — and I was eager to get things moving to build out national CBF objectives that would best inform local initiatives across the country.
After we have seen just how vulnerable communities are to external shocks beyond our control, we must do all we can to invest in people and their untapped talent. New Flyer of America’s Anniston workforce development program will focus on purposeful investment to build pathways of sustainable economic development in Anniston and beyond. I believe Anniston—like the rest of the country, is ripe for an economic comeback. I am confident New Flyer of America’s collaborative and innovative workforce development program will ensure more opportunity and more prosperity is available for all Alabamians.