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The Business View – March 2017
A simple mantra guides Liz Freeman’s professional life, and she hopes it will serve her well as board chair of the Mobile Area Chamber.
“You’ve got to show up,” said Freeman, president of Long’s Human Resource Services. “You have to be there – physically and mentally present – and you have to be consistent.”
Her call to action is equally simple.
“Whatever you do, get people engaged, because it has to be a community effort. The more voices we have at the table, the clearer picture we have of the true needs in the community and who at the table can help solve those issues,” she said.
Freeman, a Mobile native, earned a bachelor’s degree in human and organizational development from Vanderbilt University in 1998, after which she oversaw all operational aspects for both the Mobile and Baldwin branches of the family-held and operated company until taking the helm in 2014.
She has served on the executive committee, the board of directors and board of advisors for the Chamber; as an advisory board member for Hancock Bank; as an advisory council chair for USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital; and as a board member for both the United Way of Southwest Alabama and UMS-Wright Preparatory School.
She looks forward to serving the community she knows so well as the Chamber chair. “I feel like Mobile really has a formula for success,” she said. “We’re a port city, which is key in attracting and retaining business. That also makes us a cultural melting pot and a truly international city.”
Freeman said she is particularly encouraged by the city’s ongoing infrastructure investments, revitalization of St. Louis Street into a high-tech corridor and the proactive steps being taken to capitalize on the advanced manufacturing trends that lure high-tech, high-paying employment to the area.
“All of those pieces make Mobile exciting and create a really diverse community where anybody can feel a part of it,” she said. “We’ve seen these global businesses come in and feel at home. That’s what we want. It really speaks to that Southern hospitality piece, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about working together to strengthen what we’ve built while working every day to expand that reach and those partnerships.”
In turn, she said, her nearly 20 years of experience in employment services offers perspective that can benefit not only the Chamber and its membership, but the broader economic base.
“We (at Long’s) live and breathe labor force and workforce development and have a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in terms of employment: the good, the bad and the ugly. The bottom line is people – well trained, capable people – are the lifeline of industry around here, and if you don’t have the workers you can’t produce the work,” she said.
Advanced manufacturing in particular presents myriad opportunities for Mobile to cultivate the next generation workforce, spanning key industries from specialty shipbuilding to specialty chemicals. But workforce development is crucial to prepare for expected growth in those fields, she said.
“We’re pointed in the right direction. It just takes time. Skilled trades are the areas where we desperately need people, and so much of that is because the manufacturing landscape has changed so much compared to general labor.
“We combat that through engagement. Our local area businesses are doing a good job of engaging with the school system to show young people what their career paths can look like because four-year college and post-graduate work is not for everybody, and there is significant money to be made (in other fields). It becomes a question of how to engage kids, how to entice them and show them what’s out there. Our businesses are doing that, and we need more of it.”
As a small business owner, Freeman is hopeful she can use her Chamber role to further empower the very backbone of the local economy. “It’s vital we all get involved and that we have a voice. In that regard, the Chamber is an extension of us in terms of helping us grow our businesses,” she said.
Click here to read The Business View – March 2017