Several speakers addressed a crowd of over 70 attendees during the inaugural Anson Economic Development Summit on Wednesday. Several speakers provided a local workforce development perspective.
K-12 Initiatives in Anson County
Michael Freeman, Anson County Schools superintendent, spoke on the K-12 initiatives in Anson County. Freeman spoke of the various opportunities that students have to prepare for the workforce well before they submit a job application. Students have work-based learning opportunities that can turn into employment opportunities if a student is chosen for hiring. Even if the student does not receive employment, internships still provide real-life work experience and can often earn college credit, Freeman said.
Freeman spoke of the perception people often have of Anson County. “Those of you who have been in the Anson County schools probably have one perception and others who just hear about the schools probably have another perception,” he said. He encouraged those with an automatically negative perception to rethink their opinion. “If I call out a career, I bet a name of a student who attended Anson County schools will go through your mind,” he said. “How many doctors has Anson County made? How many lawyers? How many politicians? How many work for NASA? How many are in the entertainment industry, or farming, or in law enforcement?”
He encouraged naysayers to not only recognize Anson schools themselves, but to encourage others to do the same. “When you hear about those [bad] perceptions about your school, speak up!” he said. “When those naysayers come in the room and complain, let them know that your child, your grandchild, is a product of Anson County schools.”
Freeman stressed that adults’ perception of children should not be the automatic label they are assigned later in life. “Sometimes at a medical facility, someone comes to draw blood and I’m like, ‘You’re the one? The one who swung on the lights in the classroom?’ Don’t judge them on what they did now. Those little jokers grow up!”
He hoped that citizens would be proud of their students. “I hope as you look up names and you Google and you travel, you will be proud when you see Anson County citizens all over this world in their chosen professions,” he said.
The community college role
Dr. Stan Sidor, president of South Piedmont Community College, spoke to the audience about the importance of both community colleges and their graduates.
Sidor stressed that SPCC offers a variety of certification programs and associate degrees in various professions ranging from law enforcement to mechatronics engineering technology. These programs not only offer “pathways to regional employment,” but also offer classes that are accepted at 16 public universities and a variety of private ones that allow students to transfer in as juniors, he said.
He spoke about several of SPCC’s new programs, including a machining apprenticeship project, a mechatronics apprenticeship project, and an Associate of Fine Arts program, among other new offerings. He also offered some statistics to highlight why students should pursue higher education. “Students who complete an associate’s degree will see an increase of $10,700 each year,” he said. “Over the course of a life, this amounts to about $470,000. That’s a tremendous return on investment.”
Priscilla Nunn, a representative for Anson County Community Economic Support Services, Community Development Corporation (ACCESS CDC), spoke how her organization is helping citizens professionally.
The mission of ACCESS, a new nonprofit organization, as described on its website is “to share God’s plan of hope and a future by showing the pathway from poverty to economic freedom.” It exists to help citizens find career opportunities, learn new job skills, gain experience in the workforce, and achieve communication skills, among other personal and professional development goals.
Nunn said that while the program is very helpful, it does require genuine effort. “We had 43 students come to the program but only 16 of those graduated because it’s serious for us,” she said. She stressed that ACCESS helps others achieve success but that on both an individual and a local level effort has to be made. “We need to take our own economic development into our own hands,” she said.
She stressed that one way to do that is to start more businesses. Her own effort to contribute to economic development is to sell Waka Waka solar lamps and smartphone chargers through ACCESS. Although chargers are expensive at $79 apiece, she said they are worth the price tag both for the product and the opportunity to help support local entrepreneurship.
Regional workforce development
David Hollars was the final speaker and talked about the importance of developing a regional workforce.
Hollars, the executive director of the Centralina Workforce Development Board, discussed the board’s mission “to help businesses expand and thrive through a globally competitive workforce.”
Centralina helps workers learn how to direct their career path to achieve professional success and connects potential employees to jobs through its local workforce center. It currently serves seven counties. “We were the first multi-county/regional workforce board in North Carolina (formed in 1983),” he said.
The board doesn’t just help individuals, but businesses, as well. “We’re designed to provide skills training to the current workforce and improve productivity,” he said. Some ways it achieves this are through enhancing the skills of current employees and developing “portable skills,” among several other goals. Ultimately, “a better-skilled workforce ends up having more of an opportunity for economic growth,” he said.
Because of this, Hollars said that the community needs to begin working with its youth to prepare them for their future careers. Centralina provides a number of opportunities for youth, including sponsoring career-focused expos for students.
Hollars said that Centralina can provide a good deal of help to Anson. “There are opportunities in this region,” he said. “The greatest opportunity is sustained collaboration to build talent, agility, an entrepreneurial culture, and a great quality of life.”
The key to local economic success: “Grow talent, retain talent, and, most importantly for rural counties, attract talent,” he said.
Chuck Horne, the chair of the Anson Economic Development Corporation, closed the event and said that he was “proud of what we did today.” Horne stressed that this was only the first meeting of what will become an annual event in Anson County.