As president of Richmond Community College, I was proud to be included in this important project to help companies Target Laurinburg/Scotland County. Two weeks ago in this column, Scotland County/Laurinburg Area Chamber of Commerce Chairman Nick Sojka wrote about the “need for everyone to pull together and grow our economy,” so this concept of collaborative leadership is not mine, but an idea embraced by leaders throughout the community. Having organizations and entities from across the community work on this exemplifies what is critically needed to move our city and county forward: results-based collaboration built on a foundation of trust and mutual self-interest.
In the past few years, we have seen other powerful examples of how we can succeed through cooperation, compromise and shared goals. The construction of the F. Diane Honeycutt Center would never have happened unless the leadership of the City of Laurinburg and RCC had developed a vision of what could be, imagining the possible. Working together, stakeholders from across the county were brought on board, and they realized the value of investing in a skilled workforce. Today, in the place of the eyesore that was once the old hospital building, the Honeycutt Center stands as a source of hope and possibility for people to change their lives for the better.
Just three short years ago, the Scotland County Schools realized it was not financially feasible to continue busing students to our Hamlet campus for the Scotland Early College High School program. Given the value and success this partnership had enjoyed, we all wanted to continue it. Working with the common goal of our students’ success in mind, Superintendent Rick Stout, County Manager Kevin Patterson and I worked with St. Andrews University President Paul Baldasare to develop a unique solution — housing the program and RCC classes on the St. Andrews campus. Having found common ground, established trust and a sense of urgency, we developed a four-way partnership between the schools, RCC, St. Andrews, and Scotland County not found anywhere else in the state. Today, because of this powerful partnership, SEARCH is thriving, and a record number of graduates are pursuing 4-year degrees and/or starting new careers with a free two-year degree to their name.
Now, Scotland County must face its greatest challenge long-term — wide spread unemployment — with the same unity and teamwork that made the Honeycutt Center and reach successful realities. The key to job creation and retention, as our Economic Development Team has heard repeatedly over the past two years, is the need for a prepared, motivated workforce. In order to join the 21st century workforce, our citizens must have the appropriate combination of technical and interpersonal skills, and be committed to becoming life-long learners. Local firms such as Service Thread and FCC have thrived by partnering with RCC and emphasizing the educational levels of their employees and placing value on expanding their skill levels. While there is no guarantee that new skills and credentials will land everyone the dream job they are seeking, I can promise this: people without these 21st century skills will have little chance of reaching their potential and accomplishing their goals and dreams.
RCC has expanded its services and programs in Scotland County in order to help folks get started on the journey for their dream job. With courses now offered in the Honeycutt Center, on the St. Andrews campus, and on-line, we are expanding our offerings and looking for new and better ways to connect with current and potential students, and better serve our corporate partners. Education and training, through RCC or any other college, makes a difference, individually and collectively. Losing a job is terrible, but losing hope is far worse. While unemployment remains our greatest challenge, despair and hopelessness are our real threats. When people give up and surrender, they change from being unemployed to being unemployable, and that we must prevent at all costs. The good news is through education and training there is hope.
In 2012-13 alone, our college served 3,206 Scotland County citizens, from teenage to senior citizens. Jobs are available in this region, but only for people with current skills and credentials. In as little as 3 months, students can learn a new skill, enhance their current abilities, and gain the credentials that today’s employers expect and require. RCC has worked with regional employers in developing and updating our programs in healthcare, technology, engineering, and energy. We also have agreements with our state’s universities to save students money and make the 4-year degree accessible to everyone. With financial aid and sponsorship programs available, access to education and life-long improvement is available to virtually everyone. RCC is here for Scotland County, and stands poised and ready to be part of the team and part of the solution. Working together with the Scotland County Economic Development, our elected officials, business and community leaders, and educators, I am confident we can and will provide hope and opportunity for the people of Scotland County, and encourage companies to Target Laurinburg/Scotland County.
Dale McInnis is President of Richmond Community College.