Under normal circumstances, the departure of a community college administrator who served only two years would be little-noted.
There are exceptions, however, and probably no bigger exception than Courtney Taylor, who will be leaving her position as East Mississippi Community College’s director of workforce development and its $42 million Communiversity for a new leadership position at Accelerate Mississippi, the state’s new workforce development agency.
Her time may have been brief, but her impact is likely to be felt far into the future.
“The energy and the forward-thinking mindset she helped install in her team, that’s what she brought,” said Golden Triangle Development LINK COO Macaulay Whitaker, who served on the search committee that brought Taylor to EMCC. “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.’ That will be her legacy, even though she was only here for two years.”
Academic institutions can be insular and self-serving, slow to respond to those outside their power structure.
That was never the case with Taylor, based on those involved in workforce and economic development. In Taylor, local industry found a leader who was quick to respond to the ever-evolving realities of the modern workplace. Local high school vocational programs found her enthusiastic, supportive and eager to work with them to coordinate their own efforts with those of the programs she directed.
During her two years, Taylor was the architect of the workforce programs at both campuses as well as Communiversity.
But her greatest contribution will likely be remembered, as Whitaker noted, for building a culture that will benefit the community far into the future.
The circumstances that greeted Taylor when she arrived makes her contributions all the more remarkable.
She arrived in the position late: The first classes at Communiversity started three months before her arrival in December 2019. Four months after her arrival, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state in full force, seriously disrupting the kind of hands-on training that is essential in workforce training programs.
Given those circumstances, it would be reasonable to expect that Taylor’s two-year tenure would not have produced much.
That is not the case, according to those with intimate knowledge of economic development: educators, industry leaders and elected officials. Her time here was brief, but her impact endures.
We can only wonder what Taylor might have achieved under “normal circumstances.” That she will now apply her talents on a much broader scale eases the pain of her departure. We believe what she will do at the state level will be felt here in the Golden Triangle.
EMCC will now turn its attention to finding a new leader and while it may be difficult to find someone who has been as successful as Taylor proved to be, that new person will certainly benefit from what Taylor established. We applaud Taylor’s vision and energy. She’s set a standard for workforce development that will set up the next director for success.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.