- NICOLE CARTRETTE
Advanced manufacturing a priority for SCC
On March 15 voters statewide will consider a $2 billion bond referendum that will benefit the UNC System, agriculture, state parks, community colleges and water and sewer infrastructure projects.
It is about more than the $6.8 million in capital funding it could bring to Southeastern Community College in President Dr. David Clarke’s eyes.
Its about giving –giving students at SCC more training opportunities, giving local industries a better educated workforce, giving the county manufacturing programs that will attract new industry and giving economic development a boost, he said.
“What it means for us is really an opportunity to move the college forward,” Clarke said. “If we can get this $6.8 million we can really change how the college is a partner for economic development and educational attainment.”
The college plans to create three centers within existing buildings at the college for advanced manufacturing technologies, electrical and energy technologies and construction trades.
Plans include an addition to the T-building to double the manufacturing simulation space and add technologies not currently offered at SCC.
Hydraulics, pneumatics, enhanced mechanical training and mechatronics offerings would be added to provide more advanced training.
“Right now we don’t have that equipment. We are pursuing money to get it and we need to put it somewhere,” Clarke said.
He said SCC is focused on enhancing and adding programs that will benefit existing employers and attract new industry.
Not new buildings
“We are not building new buildings,” Clarke said. “We have a lot of needs in Columbus County and our board reprioritized things. Originally, our priority was a $19 million building for advanced technology. I don’t think that is probably a reasonable request, right now in Columbus County, but (with the bond passage) we have $6.8 million to expand this building and do some things in some technical areas and we will get what we need to do that.”
Among those priorities are plans to renovate training areas like SCC’s welding facilities.
Clarke said on a recent tour of Robeson Community College he couldn’t help but see that the welding facilities there were more attractive.
“The welding area is larger and better organized than ours; ours is smaller it’s old and probably could use a better ventilation system,” he said.
‘oh my goodness’
“I worked in the industry for 15 years,” said Clarke, a former executive with General Mills. “If I went to Robeson’s welding shop I’d say ‘ok, this is a decent welding shop but if I went to our welding shop I’d say ‘oh my goodness’.”
Clarke said that has nothing to do with the quality of instruction SCC offers in welding.
“That does not talk about instruction, that talks about facility,” he said. “We prepare welders but as you walk through and have to pick where you might locate your company appearances go a long way. Welding probably jumps out at me because, even as president, I walk through and say we need to do something in here.”
Clarke said the bond can change that.
It will bring new equipment and a better grinding area, for example.
“Those are the kinds of things this money will help us do,” he said.
The college will become a better partner in economic development and help “attract companies to Columbus County as well as help the current companies in Columbus County improve their operations to (create) more jobs.”
‘we have to have it’
“We can’t bring a company in here and they not see what they need to prepare their workforce. We can’t say we’ll get it; we have to have it . That’s what this bond is doing. It’s really making us prepared so that when . . a (potential) or an existing company expanding comes they see we have the programs they have and need.”
Clarke said these funds are not intended for repaving roads or repairing air-conditioners at the college.
“I’m going to trust that the county commissioners are going o help us do that,” he said. “To me it is an opportunity to really change the trajectory of Southeastern.”
The last bond of this kind was 15 years ago.
“This doesn’t happen too often and we want to make sure we are using the money to really move SCC forward and move it forward in a big way,” he said. “This will be the core of helping us grow in Columbus County. Its going to let us play our role the way we should be playing our role.”
Clarke said in his discussions with manufacturers across the county and on site visits he has gained knowledge about their needs.
“I wanted to hear what they wanted, what they needed,” Clarke said. The advanced manufacturing and technologies plans were born of those talks. A summit in the fall with manufacturers at SCC is where the college unveiled its plans.
“What we heard at that summit was that we are headed in the right direction,” Clarke said.
“We are in a competitive environment,” Clarke said. “As we create these three centers it allows us to address the basic needs of most companies that would think about moving here or growing here.”
He said existing employers are in competition with sister operations in other states for expansion opportunities and new product lines that would create more jobs locally.
“How do we make our current employers more competitive ? Whether it is advanced manufacturing, electrical energy technology, or construction trades we will have those three centers,” Clarke said.
“This will require change at the college,” he added. Currently, short-term certificate and workforce training programs in areas such as electrical and manufacturing are housed in separate buildings from degree programs but Clarke hopes to change that.
Other renovation proposals include renovating the student services area and health technologies spaces.
“It can be intimidating to come to college and we want to make sure our student services area is as welcoming as possible. We have great people there and we welcome our students but the space doesn’t support that.”
Science labs, classrooms, instruction areas and offices would also get upgrades.
He said the bond is a way to bring new industry.
‘a job there for them’
For the unemployed and students of SCC he hopes the bonds will mean “if they are looking for a job there will be a job . . ”
Clarke recently stood in a portion of the T-building with students in the college’s Certified Production Technician (CPT) program.
Leonard Worley was among those students.
When Georgia Pacific closed the plant on Chadbourn Highway, Worley lost his job as forklift driver. At age 57 he is hopeful Southeastern Community College’s CPT program will be the leg up he needs to land a manufacturing job in Columbus County.
“I’m looking for a job . . I’m trying to get back in the workforce and this class is the ideal class to enhance my abilities so I can do different things,” Worley said.
His classmate Antonio Murdock, 27, a former student at East Columbus High School has worked in construction, at warehouses and in fast food but wants “a better job.”
Logan Ward, 22, said he is “just trying to get a job.”
At 18, Noah Noble, a recent South Columbus High School graduate, said he too is in the CPT program to find job opportunities.
The CPT program, a workforce training program, in many cases helps students get their foot in the door to manufacturing jobs, Dr. Clarke said.
“They come in and get introduced to manufacturing and different technology. They take quality safety manufacturing processing, get introduced to what manufacturing is like and go on tours of companies to see the environment .. It’s been a pretty successful program, as far as getting them jobs.”
Clarke emphasized the bond is also about jobs.
“Hopefully in Columbus County it is a popular thing to bring in $6.8 million for the community college . . it is a good idea but across the state there are counties with local bonds not as popular. We can’t just assume that everyone loves this. There are a few groups that are against the bond . . We encourage people to get to the polls on March 15 and to vote Connect NC bond.”
Clarke said no new taxes would come with the bond passage.
“It's been 15 years since the last general obligation bond was approved by the voters to upgrade our state’s infrastructure, and since then North Carolina has added 2 million people in population. The $2 billion bond will connect North Carolina to the 21st century through statewide investments in education, parks, safety, recreation, and water and sewer infrastructure,” Gov. Pat McCrory said, according to connect.nc.gov. “The Connect NC bond will allow us to pay for 50-year assets with 20-year financing. No tax increases are necessary to finance the bond, given our strong revenue growth and ample debt service capacity. We will continue to balance the budget and uphold our position as one of only 10 states to have earned the coveted Triple A bond rating from all three major ratings agencies.”