Ashe County celebrates its industrial sector

James HowellStaff

November 28, 2012

An industry appreciation luncheon was held Tuesday at Jefferson Landing to express the community’s gratitude for the contributions and opportunities provided by the manufacturing and industrial sectors of Ashe County’s economy.

During the luncheon, Cabot Hamilton read a resolution that announced Dec. 3, through Dec. 7, would be industry appreciation week.

“The manufacturing and industrial firms located in Ashe County have proven their essential role in community development through their support of a variety of organizations and functions… therefore, be it resolved, that the Ashe County Board of Commissioners declares Dec. 3, through Dec. 7, 2012 as Industry Appreciation Week in recognition of the many contributions of local industry to the Ashe County economy and to the community at-large,” said Hamilton while reading the resolution.

Dr. Scott Ralls, the president of the N.C. Community College System, spoke at the luncheon to express his appreciation to the community’s efforts to train its work force.

“I have a great deal of appreciation for Wilkes Community College’s involvement in the community,” said Ralls. “I’ve said this before, my favorite community college in the state is Wilkes Community College,” said Ralls.

“Industry has been working with education and other leaders to solve problems. There’s no place better than Ashe County for that type of collaboration,” said Ralls.

“On the show 60 Minutes, there was a story about a skills shortage in the workforce,” said Ralls. He also said the show mentioned ways for local community colleges to be more proactive in developing people’s industrial skills.

“Wilkes Community College has been providing solutions like the ones mentioned on 60 Minutes before anyone else had even started,” said Ralls.

During his speech, Ralls said Ashe County and North Carolina need to continue investing in industrial education. Ralls listed reasons why the workforce needs to be skilled and knowledgeable in the future.

One reason for a continued investment in workforce education is the country’s aging population.

“Three years ago,” said Ralls, “a retired school teacher named Kathleen Casey-Kirchling retired early, becoming the first baby boomer to file for social security.”

Ralls said this retirement sparked a new trend; 10,000 baby boomers are predicted to retire every day for several years in the future.

“When social security was in place, there were 42 workers for every social security beneficiary. In the near future, there will be two workers for every social security beneficiary,” said Ralls.

“I don’t know about you-all, but I would like those two workers to attain the highest education and make the most money as possible,” said Ralls.

Another reason for an investment in industrial education is the face-paced growth of technology. Ralls said new industrial jobs will continue to become more complex, and more emphasis will be placed on math and technology in the future.

“Jobs are not what they were 20 years ago,” said Ralls. He also said “new jobs are different, and they require different training.”

Another need for industry training is an increasingly competitive global market. “We need to start changing the way we think about our competition… we are now competing with the entire world,” said Ralls.

Ralls said while he was on a trip to Germany, he saw a commercial from the United Arab Emirates encouraging people to visit because of their job training programs. He also said Saudi Arabia is attempting to enhance their job training, and Brazil and Mexico are now world leaders in the aeronautics industry because of their investment in technological education.

Even with these challenges in mind, Ralls said “I see this as a time for optimism.”

“Our system may not be perfect, but over time, we (North Carolina) have developed the most successful community college system in the United States,” said Ralls.