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Plans to Nowhere: Why the workforce training center never came to Metrocenter

Published: Jan. 20, 2022 at 6:44 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Workforce training is something you hear politicians talk about all the time.

In 2018, Mississippi almost had a state-of-the-art facility housed right inside the Metrocenter Mall.

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

So the plans for major development, in a part of town in desperate need, once again became plans to nowhere.

In 2009, Jackson businessmen put their resources together and created Retro Metro. Their goal was to invest, purchasing a portion of the Metrocenter Mall.

Socratese Garrett was among those businessmen.

“While we knew that the Metrocenter area was deteriorating, we thought that if we could bring that anchor back to life and vibrancy then we would have others that would follow that lead,” Garrett said.

But it didn’t happen. Retro Metro owns the portion of the mall that houses the City of Jackson Water Department, but their plans were greater.

In 2018, Hinds Community College announced a joint venture 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 career-technical and workforce training programs aimed at both high tech training and middle skill education. It was to be housed inside the Metrocenter Mall.

“We set out to build out a training center and a one stop shop that would have been a model for central Mississippi and was federally mandated,” Garrett said. “After three years of negotiating with Hinds and actually thinking that we were in a position to close every day, having gotten approval from our banks and Mike Booker at BancorpSouth and others we thought we were on the way. There was one small impediment though. that we did not take into consideration. And unfortunately those individuals that were decision makers, that were key decision makers, are no longer here today. We’ve lost Clyde Muse and we’ve lost Chad Stock. While they tried to push forward, their board rejected the concept.”

Garrett says the idea was not rejected because of where it would be located, but instead because of who would be doing the work.

“The reason that the board rejected that is because we were going to use minority contractors,” Garrett said. “And it was going to be a $12-15 million build out. And the board didn’t want to see minority contractors do the build out because their board is loaded with contractors.”

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

“Then Hinds, after they failed to negotiate with Retro Metro, started negotiating with Bishop Ronnie Crudup at New Horizon Church under the same premise,” he said.

The concept was the same as before, he said, but once the board of trustees at Hinds realized who would do the work, they declined.

“They didn’t take into consideration that Socrates Garrett, a partner in Retro Metro, 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 that scenario, Bishop Crudup told them that Garrett Enterprises would be doing the build out...and they walked away again.”

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

But he says rather than work with a minority contractor, specifically him, Hinds chose to table the idea of the One Stop Shop.

“They walked away twice, and it wasn’t going to cost them any money. It was being subsidized and funded by Hinds County and they gave the money back. $3 million of money that the county gave to them, they gave it back rather than do that deal.”

Hinds Community College President Stephen Vacik sat down with us about the Workforce Training Facility. He only became President of the college in 2020 and says he can not speak to what happened in 2018. Since that venture was first announced, Hinds has not only come under new leadership, several of the board members have been replaced.

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

“Through the bidding process but to take the best bid I think is the key,” Vacik said. “We are going to work with whoever is the best. We feel very fortunate in just some renderings 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 that does fabulous work, tremendous work for the college and is a minority. We want to make sure that we give opportunities to everyone. HCC is the most diverse institution in the united states. I mean, I’ll stake my reputation on that.”

Garrett says the decision did not bring him down.

“We aren’t disheartened or beat down or sitting back crying and whining about that. 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 when it came to this project.

Officials with Retro Metro say then-Lt. Governor Tate Reeves promised them millions in bond money.

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

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

Dr. Vacik says the location on Medgar Evers would absolutely serve that community and the whole state.

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

County officials are supporting the endeavor and Vacik says once adequate funding is established they will be moving forward.

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