Area leaders gather to hear forecast for region's future
By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 20, 2010 1:46 PM
Dr. Kay Albertson, right, Wayne Community College president, talks about the gaming/simulation curriculum during a panel discussion Tuesday at the Carolina's Eastern Region's third annual State of the Region Conference. Shown, left to right, are Dr. Deborah Lamm, president of Edgecombe Community College, who spoke about healthcare programs; Dr. Jay Carraway, vice president of continuing education at Lenoir Community College, who spoke on aviation programs; and Dr. Albertson.
Variable, but with a sunny outlook wasn't Tuesday's weather forecast -- it was how John D. Chaffee, president and chief executive officer of North Carolina's Eastern Regional Development Commission, summed up the state of the region.
"We have job creations and a number of companies are beginning to start hiring -- and we know they are going to be hiring aggressively as they move through the year," he said. "There are still going to be some soft spots. I mean we have some cities in the region like Rocky Mount way in the double-digit unemployment rate and it is challenging for us.
"I am confident the right people are in place who will take an aggressive approach to promoting the region. We can't look simply externally for job growth. We have to look at existing industries, helping them with export activities. We have to look to grow internally and externally."
Chaffee made his comments following the North Carolina's Eastern Region's third annual State of the Region Conference hosted by Wayne Community College. Close to 200 local and state elected officials and business, industry, educational and community leaders attended the event held at Moffatt Auditorium.
The nearly three-hour session focused on detailing progress on workforce development and included a panel discussion on the growth in community college curriculums in the areas of gaming/simulation, aviation and healthcare.
Speakers, including Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, pressed home the need for educational opportunities to prepare the workforce to meet the changing demands of businesses and stressed the importance of partnerships.
Dalton also provided an update on the JOBS (Joining our Businesses and Schools) Commission. The commission will meet Jan. 28 at 1 p.m. at Nash Community College, he said.
"I think the partnerships we have in North Carolina are critical to our success and one of the reasons other states look to us as a model," Dalton said.
Dalton hailed the state's community college system as a "great vision."
"It is because of those partnerships and community colleges that North Carolina today is No. 1 in Site Selection magazine eight out of the last nine years for the best place to do business in America," he said. "CEO magazine has us as No. 2 in America, and Forbes magazine has us as No. 5. So I think we are poised for recovery. We are poised for success."
Competition is truly global, Dalton said.
"More kids in Beijing will take the SAT next year than in the entire United States," he said. "More kids in China will take the SAT in English than in the entire United States. So it is critical that we step up in these tough times.
"We are recovering, and North Carolina will do well in the recovery. But it will be a gradual slow recovery. The economy of the state will recover at about 30,000 net jobs per year. That is great except we have lost 250,000 jobs over the last few years. That tells us that we are going to have to use our money very wisely going forward. We have to develop more public-private partnerships to work together and that is what the JOBS Commission is about."
Dalton said the JOBS Commission is an extension of the 2003 Innovation Education Act that he authored to give statewide emphasis on the early college concept.
Early college is a five-year program a student enters in the ninth grade. Depending on the way it is structured, at the end of the five years the student has either a certificate for a 21st century job or an associate degree and only has two years left on his college education, he said.
It accelerates learning and saves money on the part of the state and students, he said.
Dalton said the dropout rate is almost zero -- something he attributes to students having a goal beyond college.
Chaffee urged those in attendance to stay in touch with his office.
"Don't walk away from today and just disengage from us," he said. "We want to hear from you whether you go to our Web site. That is the only way that we are going to be able to get better is basically if we invite everyone that has a stake or interest in this region.
"Collectively we can accomplish a great deal more than if we try to do it all individually. Pooling resources, be they financial or human, then if we identify what's the common objective, something that we all agree that we need to do, then we join together to be able to do it."
The Wayne WORKS (Wayne Occupational Readiness Keys for Success) program and how it translated into the ASPIRE (Assessing Skills for Perfor-mance in a Rebounding Economy) program is an example of how one good idea can spread across the state, he said.
"We are seeing economic development directors cooperate in a fashion that we never had before, teaming up to go on prospect missions, because they realize that if we work together at the offset, the beginning, we can go back, fall back to competition once we get someone convinced this is the place to do business."
There are high-skilled jobs coming to eastern North Carolina in the defense aerospace sector or life science section, Chaffee said.
But it takes education to get there, he said.
Also important is building public-private partnerships, Chaffee added.
A meeting for one such organization will be held Jan 29. at noon at Walnut Creek.
"It is a limited liability corporation pulling together people with high net incomes for them being involved and actually receiving proposals from startup companies in which they might collectively invest," Chaffee said. "That is part of the process going about how do we develop the economy internally instead of just recruiting companies. If we can start up a successful company in eastern North Carolina and fund it then more than likely it is going to stay here and we are going to gain value out of that presence."