Viewpoint

1. Pass bonds 2. Train students 3. Watch economy grow

R. Scott Ralls
R. Scott Ralls

From R. Scott Ralls, president of the N.C. Community College system, and Garrett Hinshaw, president of Catawba Valley Community College:

A large number of N.C. wage earners have been a community college student in the past 10 years. The annual impact of the education and training that takes place within our community colleges contributes $21.5 billion in state income, the equivalent of 375,254 new jobs. Very simply, our community colleges and their structures are the bedrock of workforce development in our state and are far too important to fall into disrepair. If North Carolina is to have a world-class workforce, it simply must have quality community college facilities.

However, community college leaders across North Carolina regularly wage a battle: balancing the normal maintenance costs of facilities that annually serve 1 out of every 9 adults in our state, with the challenge of refitting them to meet new and emerging skill demands. Repurposed facilities now support advanced technical, in-demand instruction in simulated health care delivery, aerostructure composites, mechatronics, critical maintenance for data centers, bioprocessing, energy and agribusiness – most in buildings constructed decades ago when few of these careers were on anyone’s radar.

North Carolina’s workforce – our students, your children, your family members and your neighbors – need General Assembly members, and later N.C. voters, to endorse the vital workforce development taking place at our community colleges by supporting a bond proposal to bring the hope of, at least, maintenance and repair dollars to our campuses.

While we hold out hope for funding that could support new high-tech facilities, like those proposed for the University of North Carolina System, our community college leaders know that the maintenance and repair funding included in Gov. Pat McCrory’s current infrastructure bond proposal would begin to help turn around the balancing-act battle of choosing between preventative maintenance or retrofitting for prospective job training.

Survey after survey of business leaders tells us that a well-trained, skilled workforce is their top concern. Roofs, HVAC systems and routine maintenance rarely inspire rallies or political speeches, but businesses, citizens and communities are all concerned when there is a long wait for a technically skilled worker – whether at your home, at a business or at a hospital. The much discussed skills gap can’t be closed with the needed technology and equipment of 2015 housed in decades-old buildings that have weathered years of “doing just enough.”

Our community colleges need bond funds to house the equipment that will train that technically skilled workforce, to make the most of existing facilities, and to begin to chip away at the tremendous facility needs that could, if not addressed soon, leave our students and future employees lacking.

North Carolina’s workforce, its future potential, and Governor McCrory’s infrastructure bond proposal need your support.

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