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EDC Impact Report Interview – Craig and Brittany – November 28

Craig, thanks for joining us. We often hear economic development consultants say that North Carolina’s big strength is our community college system. What makes us so strong?


Several factors. One is access. The North Carolina community college system is committed to making sure that no resident of the state is more than 30 minutes from a community college campus. Access also means online and at your workplace.

But really, it’s the funding model. The community college system here wasn’t necessarily just set up to help people get degrees. It was to help the workforce be resilient and capable and prepared. So that means that if people want to change their careers, they can do it inexpensively.

In some other states, the continuing education that provides the short-term workforce development style training is not funded at all. The cost of that training is born entirely by the tuition that people pay. And that can make each course cost four times as much as what it does in North Carolina.

The last piece is the high degree of alignment that exists between the community college system, the university system, the K-12 system. It really is an education system, not just a community college system.

One of the interesting statistics about the North Carolina community college system is that 40% of North Carolina’s workforce has attended one of the 58 community colleges within the last 10 years.

Community colleges don’t just serve the emerging workforce, but they’re serving the incumbent workforce as well. You couldn’t reach that kind of number unless you’re doing that.

That means that the system is highly engaged with employers and highly engaged with workers all throughout their career.

At Rowan-Cabarrus, we have the Advanced Technology Center and the North Carolina Manufacturing Institute. How do those kinds of programs specifically impact an aid in economic development?

I think the Advanced Technology Center is a statement that we are writing new narratives for our community and talking about what the future looks like.

The ATC is helping people obtain skills, helping businesses become competitive. helping our community attract and retain the kinds of jobs that we want that are high wage and high skill and high security jobs. It is a major piece of the puzzle for how economic development works to keep a community moving forward.

The NC Manufacturing Institute is an exercise in collaboration. It demonstrates groups that can create shared value and work together to solve a problem.

The problem was, “Where will the next generation of manufacturing workers come from?” And, the interested parties, of course, were the manufacturers themselves.

They were also our chambers of commerce, our economic development groups and our workforce development board and the community college.
And those groups got together and devised way to create a sustainable and affordable solution.

One of the advantages that we have in NCMI partners is that although our 50 signatory institute partners and investors compete for workforce, they don’t compete for market.

They recognized that they could do a lot more together than they could on their own and they could work collaboratively as an industry to say, “The manufacturing workforce is a good place to be.” And then people can decide if they want to be at company A or company B or company C. They’ve gained a lot of benefit by working as a sector and creating that shared value.

You have a highly engaged and action-oriented business services team that serves existing businesses. Why is it important for businesses to have a liaison with the college?

The college is a big place. It’s difficult for a company to know how to get started.

The business services team serves as the front door for our business partners to be able to access resources, tools and students inside the college.

If they want a grant, if they need specialized training for a particular employee or a group of employees or want to learn about best practices, having a person that they can talk to on a regular basis is important. The team is also expert at helping businesses identify people solutions for their business.

The business services team’s motto is that they want to be our employers’ trusted partner. They help to build those partnerships over time and stay engaged with them deliberately along the way.

Editor’s note: To connect with the business services team, visit

If someone in the community wants to change their career, how quickly can they get the training that they need and how accessible is it to them?

If you look at your watch every time the big hand gets to 12, we’re starting a class somewhere. Six days a week, 52 weeks a year, 14 hours a day.

So, if the door is opening every hour and the classes themselves are usually nine weeks or less, it is pretty low risk to get started with education. And they will leave with a certification.

That will jumpstart their ability to get into a new career or a higher level job.

Helping individuals is just as important as helping the businesses. It’s a circle. You can’t help one without helping the other.

We’ve started lot of second chance programs. We got a grant to start a program to teach people about construction trades who have been justice involved.

We have a partnership with the Cabarrus County Sheriff to teach them skills and then we’ve had employers come in and interview people in the jail so they can have a job the day they come out.

Many of them have found that they can succeed at training and pursue more education. Some of them will immediately go to work and some will sign up for other programs that they can climb even higher.

What are stackable credentials and why is it important that they are offered?

We think about a career ladder, right? Stackable credentials puts the rungs closer together so you can climb that ladder more easily and have achievements along the way.

It may be that you ultimately want an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, but in the past you either finished it or you hadn’t.

These stackable credentials let you mix and match. You can take one of our career changer classes and earn the certified production technician certification and take that and get credit towards your Mechatronics degree.

We encourage people to leverage our current labor market and go through a short-term training program, get a high-paying job, and let your employer pay the rest of your education expense.

When we have our interview fairs for the manufacturing institute, it’s a reverse job fair where the students set up the booths and the employers go from one place to the other and our graduates have about 17 interviews in one day.

The recurring question that I hear is “How will you fund my future professional development? And what does my future career path look like?”

Stackability means that you can leverage someone else’s resources to help you reach your ultimate goal.

You’ve spent a good portion, if not all, of your career on the workforce, helping people advance their career.

Can you talk about some of the efforts that you’ve been a part of or that you’ve seen that help foster collaboration and how that’s helped the community overall?

I have a sign on my desk that says “collaborate” with an exclamation point on it, because it’s really the only way things get accomplished in communities.

I became involved through a very large grant that we were administering with a group that was developing a concept called strategic doing.

And strategic doing is a process for helping to solve gnarly problems in the civic space.

I recognized that community colleges have a responsibility to serve as that convener in a lot of cases. It’s about getting the right people to the table.

It doesn’t always mean powerful people. It just means the right people. It means building achievable goals and leverage. A term I use all the time is “link and leverage”. Identify and connect the resources that are already there to come up with a sustainable solution.

There’s a global group that we work with in strategic doing based in Belgium. I was a speaker at one of their online panels recently. I talked about a concept that we developed called a “no overhead organization”.

Let’s go back to the North Carolina manufacturing Institute for a second. That was created using strategic doing. Each group pitched in something to make it happen.

And as a result, so we vowed that we would not do a few things. We wouldn’t apply for a grant. If we apply for a grant, as soon as the grant funds are gone, the program will die. We also said that we will commit to ongoing support of this with the resources that we already have, so long as it continues to benefit the organization.

What we created was that no overhead organization. One organization created and supported the website. One did all the billing and the finances. One did all the marketing and advertising. Everybody agreed to do all these things because they were going to get benefit out of it.

Here we are nine years into it. The no overhead organization kept us sustainable. When we ask our partners for financial investment, we can assure them that 100% of what they give us will go towards the scholarship to support one student through the program.

Can you tell me about your partnership with Eli Lilly?

We worked with them to develop a program called BioWork, which is an entry-level set of skills for people to work in the bio-pharma industry.

We teach it to two different groups. There are people interested in and excited about being candidates for jobs at Lilly. They attend the BioWork program to prepare themselves to be a candidate.

We also train people that they hire based on their other experience. As part of their on-boarding with Lilly, they go through the BioWork program to learn how to work in a bio-pharma environment.

It’s another transformational moment for the community – a whole new industry sector. Usually, when a new employer comes here, it’s the kind of thing that we’ve done before.

Here we are, jumping into an entirely new sector and building up the college’s capacity to be able to support them, the faculty and labs and curriculum and materials that we didn’t have a year ago.

You’re preparing to retire. What are you most excited to get to watch from a grow from a distance or what do you hope to see after you exit your career?

The marvelous team that’s here in continuing education continue to build rich, deep relationships with employers, community partners, with the government and other colleges to continue innovate and solve gnarly problems.

I think the other thing is to watch what the Advanced Technology Center becomes. Advanced technology for manufacturing is on such a rapid change and turnover and pace, I’m excited to see how that facility and that staff and that team and the faculty that are there can use that facility as a tool to not just keep up, but to lead in skill development and provide world-class training to the world.

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