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Final Four: Bottom-Line Answers About Workforce Readiness in the S.C. I-77 Corridor

A prepared, committed workforce is critical to the success of any industry in any region. Low unemployment rates nationwide reflect how easy it is for talented people to get good jobs and how hard it can be for employers to get good people.

South Carolina, including the four counties of the S.C. I-77 Alliance, have a long history of helping companies and communities succeed with a mix of general and targeted education and training, including one of the more robust technical college systems in the country.

Here, Alliance President & CEO Rich Fletcher answers four fundamental questions about what the I-77 region has to offer new and existing companies and current and potential new residents. They begin and end with communication and collaboration around shared goals and values.

1. How can communities and regions align workforce development with economic development?

By communicating. There’s a long history of cooperation and communication between the state, our counties, regional groups, the educational system, developers and companies themselves about what skills are needed to make industry work here.

That’s helped create a system that’s both efficient and effective. Effective networking and communication allows our educational system, especially our technical colleges, to move away from certifications and degrees for occupations with low demand and focus on those that are growing.

How do they know what’s hot and what’s not? They ask. South Carolina’s regional and state public and private economic development stakeholders communicate with each other, with existing employers and with others considering setting up shop here. We share data. We stay in touch and in sync.

Communities and regions that deploy a comprehensive strategy ― sharing insight and information across the economic development cycle ― will be the most effective at securing the economic vitality of their constituents. That’s happening across the Palmetto State.

2. When you speak directly to companies and site selectors what are the main points you stress when it comes to our regional and state workforce?

The I-77 region  is ideally located in a state that in itself is ideal for economic development. South Carolina is a right-to-work state that has the country’s lowest unionization rates. We offer below-average labor costs but wages that match our low cost of living, decades of nationally recognized experience in workforce development, and a workforce ethic that supports our targeted advanced manufacturing sectors.

Employers who locate anywhere in our 90-mile corridor that connects fast-growing Charlotte, NC, and Columbia, SC, our capital city, enjoy a civilian labor force of roughly 1.2 million people. Our 2017 workforce study shows that the corridor workforce is on average younger and more educated than South Carolina and U.S. averages.

State economic development and workforce initiatives are highly integrated into our schools, including STEM initiatives in K-12 settings, industry- and company-specific programs at our technical colleges, and our four-year colleges and universities.

In fact, higher education in South Carolina is both a source for skilled workers and for advanced research initiatives, collaborations, and partnerships.

3. What would be perhaps the most unique advantage South Carolina has when you assess economic development competitors elsewhere?

Our workforce development timeline, including the SC Technical College system and certified apprenticeships through its ApprenticeshipCarolina program, and through the workplace with company-specific recruiting and training services from the readySC program.

There were 8,926 active apprenticeships in the four-county I-77 region in 2017, more than 60% of the statewide total. Those apprenticeships were in 364 different occupations at 123 companies.

The readySC program, meanwhile, was created in 1961 and helps with recruiting, curriculum development and training, instructors, and project management. That can even include creating on-site training programs overseas for jobs that will end up here in the Palmetto State.

The state’s 16 technical schools, meanwhile, serve some 250,000 people a year, more than all the state’s other public higher education institutions combined. Industry-specific training and education are longtime specialties and our technical colleges have become very good at it.

That includes the two institutions that anchor either end of the Corridor: to the north, York Technical College in Rock Hill and its second campus in Chester County, and to the south, Midlands Technical College, with four campuses in and around the capital city and a site in Fairfield County.

They’re all focused on providing affordable education that prepares our workforce for the in-demand, highly-skilled jobs of today and tomorrow.

4. Do we have any unique challenges over the next five to 10 years?

Every region across the country faces its own combination of issues that include gaps between the entry-level workforce and the evolving demands of employers, with other factors like high retirement rates and social issues mixed in. What’s unique to us is our region’s ability to turn these challenges into opportunities.

That begins with the long-standing collaboration among all economic development stakeholders here, a reality reflected in the robust, growing ability of our educational system to prepare a relatively young, educated workforce for current and future skills and occupations.

Combined with our favorable location in terms of everything from climate to logistics, the I-77 Corridor and the Palmetto State itself are well positioned to respond to today’s challenges and tomorrow’s promises.

Dig Deeper into the Numbers. Visit the Economic Data Center