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Paris Junior College

Local companies and their employees are hard at work. But they’re not just tackling the menial duties of the day — they’re hard at work building a community.

Even though the Red River Valley lacks access to a multi-lane, high-speed interstate, more than a handful of businesses have given the area their stamp of approval, moved their operations here and employed the local workforce.

Local success stories of how some folks just walked right in off the ranch or road and stumbled into a long-term career that helped them raise a family never cease to amaze me. And we have many such stories right in here Paris, thanks to Kimberly-Clark, Campbell Soup, Turner Industries and other large employers.

There’s the story of Jamie McDowell, for instance. A longtime Kimberly-Clark employee, McDowell said he started in 1983 when construction was not yet completed.

“I came right off the farm near Honey Grove,” McDowell said of his start. “I think my knowledge of farm machinery served me well in those early years.”

And then there’s Leander Butler at Turner Industries.

“As a young man, Turner Industries gave me a chance to find stability, and for that I am forever grateful,” he said.

Most importantly is that these companies have not stalled — they’re growing, and as they do, they continue to look right here at home for the talent they need. Helping them get that skilled workforce is Paris Junior College.

That’s no easy task. The local college offers 22 workforce programs, and that means keeping up with the latest developments in each. It’s well worth it, though, when we hear the success stories of students who have completed courses or graduated and have gone on to enrich their lives through promotions at work.

David Gordon at Kimberly-Clark is one of them. He attended Paris Junior College while still working so he could receive an associate’s degree in electronics, then he earned a position in the maintenance program. Today he’s an electrical maintenance team leader.

Speaking of specialty training, Paris Regional Medical Center employs more than 800 people and paid out more than $56 million in payroll. Although many rural hospitals face economic challenges to tough to overcome, Paris Regional’s leadership has been hard at work making moves to keep the hospital solvent and strong.

Joining all of our longtime large employers are new companies, such as American SpiralWeld, who want in on the community that’s being built here.

Construction is underway on the initial $70 million to $90 million American SpiralWeld facility with plans to employ 60 people its first year with a payroll of $3 million. Perhaps some of the best news about this new construction is this: Paris-based HWH Group is the design-builder for the facility. American SpiralWeld doesn’t even have a full presence here yet, and already the company has sought local help to get the job done.

A similar situation might arise as more solar energy companies work their way into the Red River Valley. Chisum Solar is already here, and two other companies have either just concluded talks or are talking with local officials to hammer out the details of locating their solar farms here. There might not be a lot of long-term jobs with solar farms — once they’re built, they only require a bit of maintenance — there are the short-term boosts related to construction, and there’s the guarantee of payments to school districts with money the state can’t touch with its Robin Hood funding formulas.

But wait — there’s more. The Red River Valley is fortunate to count among its businesses many mom-and-pop type operations. They range from the hobbies-turned-occupation to answering a local demand. Each is unique and each is an integral part in making the area home.

Whether you think so or not, there’s a lot happening in the local economy, and behind it all are the companies who call the Red River Valley home. Their investment into the workforce has paid dividends, and not just for them. Employees of these companies have become city councilors, they’ve served on various nonprofit boards and they’ve raised children who follow in their footsteps.

It’s easy to take what we have for granted today, but we should always remember the hard work that’s gone into it.

Klark Byrd is the managing editor of The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6960 or klark.byrd@theparisnews.com.

Klark Byrd is the managing editor of The Paris News and the editor of Paris Life Magazine. He resides in Paris with his wife, Krystle, and their three children, Charlie, Annalise and Willow.

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