A $300,000 federal grant awarded to three community colleges will help ready a Western North Carolina workforce for the rapidly growing green technology field.
Some 400 students are expected to enroll in programs supported by the Appalachian Regional Commission grant at Haywood, Southwestern and Tri-County community colleges.
Since 1998, clean energy jobs in North Carolina have grown by over 15 percent, while jobs in other fields have increased by only 6 percent. Officials say focusing on green job training is already a must in preparing students headed into the working world.
“It is incredibly important for the future of our state and country,” said Janet Burnette, interim president at Southwestern Community College.
Donna Tipton-Rogers, Tri-County college’s president, said this particular field was especially relevant with Murphy located close to major auto manufacturers in the South.
“It fits in great,” said Tipton-Rogers.
At a press conference held at Western Carolina University last week, the $300,000 check was officially presented to the Southwestern Planning & Economic Development Commission, which will work with the community colleges to develop the training program.
Rose Johnson, president of HCC, said the ARC money would be put to work as soon as the next semester begins. In all, $794,000 will be invested in the green training initiative, with local sources making up the difference.
The Appalachian Regional Commission works to promote economic development in 13 Appalachian states.
With a persistently high unemployment rate in the area, ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl pointed out the important role of higher education in bringing prosperity here.
“In an economic recession, one point that always comes out is the level of education has a direct impact on the level of income,” said Gohl. “It’s essential for a competitive workforce to be well-trained and well-educated.”
U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler emphasized the importance of not only creating green technology, but also creating the workforce necessary to implement it locally.
“We develop it, we produce it, we sell it — all in America,” said Shuler.
Governor Bev Perdue added that the grant would help bring Western North Carolina jobseekers up to speed.
“The world has morphed,” said Perdue. “We have a really deep and abiding commitment to going green.”
Green funding for colleges
The $300,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant will help three community colleges expand training in green jobs. Here are some ideas on how they plan to use it:
• Haywood Community College plans to use its share of the grant to fund equipment and instruction for low impact development, green building technology and weatherization.
• Southwestern Community College will focus on low impact development, alternative fuels, weatherization and sustainable energy.
• Tri-County Community College will invest its grant on teaching students to work on hybrid and electric vehicles.