It’s a really great time to live and work in the seven-county region served by Piedmont Technical College (PTC). Names like Teijin, Samsung, Lonza, Fujifilm, JTEKT and Colgate Palmolive are making their presence known by creating hundreds of well-paying jobs in our part of the state. But how did they get here?
The adage “If you build it, they will come” certainly applies in reference to industrial-based economic development. Companies seeking to locate in the South consider many factors, primary among them is a ready pool of trained workers for increasingly sophisticated, higher-tech roles.
Susan Petrulak, Vice President, Division of Economic Development & Workforce Competitiveness, readySC™, says that customized training facilitated through readySC™ helps draw prospective industries to the state. A division of the SC Technical College System, readySC™ partners with technical colleges to help companies that are moving to or expanding in South Carolina design training solutions tailored for their specific needs.
“At any given time, we are working with 82 projects statewide. We provide an incentive for doing business in South Carolina,” she said. “We are strongest in the advanced manufacturing sector. It’s a sweet spot for us.”
As president and CEO for the Upstate SC Alliance, a public/private regional economic development organization that focuses on the northwestern portion of the state, John Lummus can’t emphasize enough the imperative of collaboration in any effort to enhance workforce to attract industries to the state. Partnerships such as readySC™ and Apprenticeship Carolina™ lead the way.
“South Carolina’s technical colleges are the most important workforce development tool in the state,” he said. “The readySC™ program is the best incentive offered by the state, and the program has been copied by many competing states. Apprenticeship Carolina™ is also recognized as a national model that has proven to be a tool for meeting the needs of both new and existing industries.”
Lummus also lauded Upstate communities that have used innovative means to promote employment in manufacturing careers, including the Laurens County Future Scholarship, Greenwood Promise and Abbeville Promise, which raise funds from the business community to provide local high school graduates with their first two years of technical college tuition-free. These scholarships are a powerful tool to put young people on a path to higher education and successful careers.
He cited Greenwood Edge, a program launched by the Partnership Alliance that allows high school students to earn a Manufacturing Production Technician Certificate through Piedmont Tech, as another example of innovative efforts to build a future workforce.
Now economic development and higher education officials are piloting a new strategy to reach even younger students in middle school, up to six years before they graduate. Middle school is a time when students are required to complete Individualized Graduation Plans to identify or stimulate interest in various careers. So public/private partners are coordinating with local school districts to hold regional business and industry showcases which invite middle-schoolers to meet and ask questions of representatives from myriad industries.
“In economic development, the greatest challenge we face is providing a skilled workforce to companies. Our region’s leaders need to continue our efforts to work with middle and high schools in order to let tomorrow’s workers know about the dynamic, rewarding career opportunities that our manufacturers can offer,” Lummus said. “Involvement from the business community is vital to connecting classroom lessons with real-world concepts and showcasing just how exciting it can be to help bring products from concept to reality.”
Because it is nimble and has the ear of business and industry leaders, PTC is positioned as a resource for economic developers who embrace collaboration.