As a part of the search committee charged with finding a director for East Mississippi’s $42 million Communiversity in 2019, Macaulay Whitaker recognized almost immediately that Courtney Taylor was just the person for the job.
“When you find somebody like Dr. Taylor, you’re thrilled,” said Whitaker, chief operations officer for the Golden Triangle Development LINK. “She was exactly what we needed, what we were looking for.”
The only negative?
“In the back of your mind, you know you might not keep her here very long,” Whitaker said.
That day came on Thursday, when Mississippi’s reconfigured workforce development agency, Accelerate Mississippi, announced Taylor would fill the newly created position of deputy director for strategy and programs.
“We’re happy and a little sad too,” Whitaker said. “We’re proud she is going to have a broader reach and a broader impact. We’re losing her in one sense, but we’re not losing her (in another) because she’s going to be working with us in development through her new position.”
Created by the Legislature in 2020, Accelerate Mississippi will manage roughly $350 million in workforce development funds which had been scattered among numerous state agencies. Ryan Miller was chosen to lead the department in March. In late September, Accelerate Mississippi awarded its first grant — almost $1 million to support diesel technician training at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
For Taylor, the appeal of getting in on the ground floor at the new agency was not unlike her role at Communiversity, where she shaped EMCC’s workforce programs and culture.
“I absolutely think my time here prepared me for this in a lot of different ways,” Taylor said. “This community showed me that it’s possible for everyone to pull together to support workforce development. The partnerships, both internally at EMCC and externally with our area industries, K-12 and elected officials showed me what is possible. It also gave me a chance to learn how Mississippi operates, which is different from the previous state I worked in.”
Taylor came to EMCC after 13 years in economic development education in the Alabama Community College System.
But Whitaker said Taylor’s greatest strength was something that could not be reduced to lines on a resume.
“The energy and the forward-thinking mindset … that’s what she brought,” Whitaker said. “We have this wonderful new facility, but it was Dr. Taylor who breathed life into it. She transported it into a place of Yes. Yes, we can figure it out. In working with student., the high school and meeting the needs of local industries, that will be her legacy even though she was only here for two years.”
Taylor, at the point of tears, expressed her gratitude for EMCC and the relationships she built in her time at Communiversity.
“I certainly didn’t do it on my own,” she said. “Everyone needs to know that. I love this community and the opportunity I had here and a lot of that were all the people. Dr. Alsobrooks gave me great latitude to do what needed to be done and, really, there were so many relationships like that here. They spoiled me.”
Ultimately, Taylor said, the opportunity to expand her role throughout that state was too good to pass up.
“I think the investment we’re seeing now through Accelerate Mississippi is what has me most excited,” Taylor said. “They recognize the importance of coordination and communicating on a statewide level. That communication exists in some communities, like here in the Golden Triangle. But Mississippi as a whole has not been good at telling our story. That’s at the heart of what (Accelerate Mississippi) is trying to do and that’s what won me over.”
Alsobrooks did not return calls or messages from The Dispatch by press time.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]