Obion County Workforce Action Plan

Obion County, Tennessee

Union City and Obion County are located in the upper corner of North West Tennessee in the heart of the US heartland – two hours from Memphis and Nashville and three hours from St Louis.  The county’s location in the center of the bi-state Tennessee – Kentucky micropolitan region along the Mississippi River provides several logistical advantages including Canadian Rail service, nearby Mississippi River access at the Port at Cates Landing and the Kentucky Riverport, Tennessee Highway 51, State Route 21 and future access to I-69. Union City and Obion County leaders are known for successful local collaboration in economic development. They also work regionally with nearby Lake, Weakley and Dyer counties in Tennessee and Fulton and Hickman Counties located in the southwestern tip of Kentucky to support their unique bi-state economy, labor shed and infrastructure systems.

In 2011, Union City, Obion County and the North West Tennessee region suffered a devastating blow with the closure of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Union City. In response, Union City and Obion County leaders immediately focused on retention and expansion of the county’s existing employment base and began the process to prepare the community for future manufacturing investments. At the time, Obion County had good employment diversity with existing companies representing food and agriculture operations, heavy and light manufacturing, tool and die companies, distribution and a range of smaller, diverse companies. The strategy to build upon their strengths and diversify their business base was selected to protect the community from future large scale manufacturing losses.

Leadership and Industrial Site Development

Obion County Joint Economic Development Council (JEDC) leaders partnered with the state of Tennessee, TVA and site development professionals to take steps toward economic recovery. The first step was to educate elected officials and citizens about economic development to help them understand what actions were needed to prepare for future business development. Obion County Economic development officials report that this first action was the beginning of building relationships and their future economic development team that proved invaluable to their future successes.

The second step was to market available industrial properties and make necessary improvements to a 548-acre industrial property that Union City had purchased in 2004. At that time, Union City leaders invested in environmental and geotechnical studies and installed water, sewer, electrical and broadband infrastructure to the location. In 2012, community leaders partnered with TNECD and TVA to create a Master Plan for the industrial property and completed TNECD industrial site certification processIn 2013, the North West Tennessee Industrial Center was certified by TNECD as one of Tennessee’s first properties to gain this status.  Completion of this process strengthened the community’s successful economic development team and positioned the site for successful marketing actions.

In 2014, Obion County JEDC leaders worked with TVA technical services to complete an updated Master Plan for the Select Tennessee Certified Site and made the decision to invest in the design of a virtual spec building that would also be located within a Foreign Trade Zone to provide additional location incentives. In 2016, the community worked with TVA to update the site’s Master Plan that provided up to date market information and further recommendations for property improvements. In 2016, the Northwest Tennessee Industrial Center received its second TNECD site certification designation that positioned the community for further marketing actions and property improvement assistance. Later in 2016, the community received the good news of the award of a TNECD Site Development Grant to make recommended transportation infrastructure improvements to the property.

All of these efforts have successful for Obion County. Participation in site development programs and use of state and federal resources positioned this county and region of the state for future economic development and job creation as one of Tennessee’s key, emerging economic gateways. Between 2012 and 2018, the county and the Northwest Tennessee Industrial Center has realized $180,600,000 in total direct industrial investments and over 1870 manufacturing jobs have been created.  Notable industries to locate and expand in the county include Titan Tire, MIA Seating, Tyson Foods and Williams Sausage.

Workforce Action Planning

As the employment base in the county grew, Obion County JEDC leaders began work with industry and education partners to address workforce development needs and opportunities. In 2016, Obion County JECD secured TNECD ThreeStar grant funding to create a Workforce Action Plan to proactively address this economic development component.  The purpose of the plan was to enhance Obion County’s competitive advantages for workforce and marketing of those advantages.

This Workforce Action Plan was also important to Obion County’s focus on the future economy and local youth. Obion economic and community development leaders are working diligently to create a good place to live and work where youth can enjoy worthwhile and fulfilling careers. By sharing positive stories to change the stigma of jobs in the county, JEDC leaders wanted to build momentum and interest in economic development that was happening throughout the county. Participation in the planning process strengthened relationships among employers, K-12 and post-secondary educators and workforce development service providers that later insured that limited resources were leveraged and successful implementation occurred.

Three Star grant funding was used for professional consulting services to conduct the study through the following partners and sessions:

  • Employer Focus Group – Involved a variety of employers to understand their challenges and what they needed from Obion County
  • Service Providers/ Skills Pipeline Work Session - involved a wide variety of education and training service providers to identify training and education resources available for Obion County residents and employers.
  • Workforce Action Team/Planning Work Session – Involved employers and service providers to identify actions focused to meet the current and future needs of local industry as well as ways to inspire youth to prepare for current and future jobs in Obion County.
  • Career Catalog Planning Work Session  - Involved local employers, education and other workforce service providers who developed an action plan for cataloging careers available in Obion County
  • Child Care Planning Work Session – Involved local employers, childcare service operators and education providers who developed strategies to create quality childcare services that would be available “24X7” to address gaps in service during second and third shifts as well as weekends
  • Young Professionals Workforce Work Session – Involved members of the Young Professionals (YP) of Obion County organization who worked together to host a Your Future Career Fair to increase awareness of career opportunities in Obion County and connect youth with YP mentors
  • Workforce Action Team/Plan Development  - Involved all members of the project team to create final recommendations along with detailed responsibilities and actions to insure successful implementation


The final step was preparation of the Obion Workforce Development Action Plan that was completed in June of 2017. Final recommendations were designed to greatly assist Obion County leaders to maximize all currently available services and prepare new workforce specific training programs and services.

A total of 7 new programs have been successfully implemented and the development of several new initiatives is currently underway. Applications for workforce training and education program grants and other funding sources for new services available through K-12 and post-secondary providers have been developed.  A new 24/7 childcare facility has opened as a result of the conversation around barriers to employment.  Another barrier is transportation, and employers have since been made aware of the Northwest TN Human Resources Agency’s public transportation service that is an available option for scheduled pickups and drop offs for workers.  The Young Professionals of Obion County organization has grown to nearly 40 members who come together for professional, social, and civic opportunities.  Local members of this network have been tapped to serve as TN Promise mentors as well as being the “voice” of encouraging other young professionals to move back to Obion County after college.  Obion County, along with Weakley and Lake Counties, has also been selected as one of five pilot areas to be part of the College Completion Community.  The goal of this supporting initiative is to increase the number of postsecondary degrees and credentials attained in order to meet TN Drive to 55 completion objectives.   

Workforce Action Plan recommendations also positioned Obion County leaders to work with TNECD and other economic and workforce development agencies to obtain support and funding for workforce development services to support future population and economic growth as well as continue assessment actions. In 2018, a second TNECD ThreeStar grant was awarded to offer soft skills training to all 8th graders in Obion County and college and career interview prep for juniors and seniors in the community.  Also in 2018, Obion County was awarded a TNECD Asset Enhancement Grant (AEG) to conduct a regional wage and benefit survey for the nine counties in Northwest TN.  This grant also provided funding to expand soft skills training for 8th graders across the Northwest Tennessee region.

Economic and Community Impact

The county’s goals were reached for thisThreeStar Workforce Development  project. The Workforce Action Plan has positioned the county’s leaders to identify viable ways to meet current and future workforce demand, as well as investigate and make recommendations to strengthen workforce development programs. In addition to providing specific recommendations for programs and activities, plan results have enabled JECD, education and workforce development leaders to strengthen existing businesses and better position on-going business recruitment through community specific workforce marketing information targeted to existing businesses, prospects, current and future workforce members.

Successful programs that upgrade the skill sets of the current workforce have enabled currently employed residents to either find better paying jobs and/or increase their productivity value at their current jobs. Additionally, programs for K-12 students are preparing emerging workforce members to know what careers are available locally and how to choose the appropriate educational path and training to be prepared for high skilled jobs after graduation. Both efforts not only increase moral but will also ultimately increase wealth and help retain local talent in the community. Projected beneficiaries and outcomes to date include:

Junior High/High School Students Served (351 middle school, 364 high school) 715
Economic Development Organizations Engaged 3
Units of Local Government Engaged  3
K-12 and Post-Secondary Organizations Engaged  6
Workforce Development Organizations Engaged 3
Employers Participating  12
TN Promise/Young Professionals Mentors Engaged 8
New Workforce Training/Education Services Provided (childcare, transportation, soft skills training, junior/senior college & career interview prep) 7
New Workforce Training/Education Services Underway (Mechatronics Program at Obion County Central HS) 1
New Childcare Services Provided (King & Queens Childcare Center) 1
 Your Future Career Fair Events Planned (Obion Count Central HS, Fall 2019) 1

Project Funding

2016 TNECD ThreeStar Grant  $10,000
2018 TNECD ThreeStar Grant  $15,000
TOTAL WORKFORCE ACTION PLAN STUDY FUNDING (Projections for state grant funding) $25,000

Project Leadership and Partners

Obion County Joint Economic Development Council – CEO – Project Contact
Union City
Obion County
Obion County School System
Union City School System
TadZo Consulting
Boys and Girls Club of NW TN
University of Tennessee at Martin
UTM REED Center/TN Small Business Development Center
Dyersburg State Community College
Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Newbern
Northwest Tennessee Workforce Board
Northwest Tennessee Reconnect
Tyson Foods
Williams Sausage
MIA Seating
Green Plains
Center Point Business Solutions
Baptist Hospital
Discovery Park of America
Promethian Foundation
Job World
JD Distributors
Edmaiston-Mosley Funeral Home
Thunderbolt Broadcasting
Tennessee Valley Authority
Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

For project information contact the Obion County JEDC.

TNECD ThreeStar Program

ThreeStar is a strategic community development program developed to assist communities in preparing for a better future. The ThreeStar program now incorporates asset-based planning initiatives and a two-year timeline to accomplish goals. The asset-based planning component helps communities develop programs and projects to maximize their local assets to drive economic development. Starting in 2019, biennial grants will be available to counties to align with one of the community’s identified asset-based goals.

For more information visit TNECD Community and Rural Development.