Considering that manufacturing jobs have flown out of Ashe in the last 10, one might call Robinson, one of the county’s leading economic developers, foolish. By his own numbers manufacturing employment in Ashe has gone from 40 percent in 1990 to 20 percent today.
But Robinson is no fool.
He knows things have changed in manufacturing in the county. He grew up here and knows what it used to be, timber, furniture making, electronics and textiles. He went away and studied at the University of Maryland. He served in the military. He even worked at the Jefferson Post for a time. He must be good
Now he is dean of the Ashe Campus of Wilkes Community College and serves on a taskforce charged with recruiting industries, growing existing industries and making Ashe the place that industries will need to turn to for production
Robinson has been on the front lines of the jobs crisis here. When an industry has closed, Wilkes Community College gets all of the jobless Ashe folks looking for ways to re train and get back in the workforce.
When an industry has a specific training need, he gets a call from AEV or Gates or GE or United Chemicon. He sits on the committee that helps find solutions for outside industries that are looking for a place like Ashe to land and make things. He is one of the ones who finds solutions for new and existing industry growth.
Robinson says that the real potential in job growth is in find ways to help existing industry grow.
He offers a positive energy toward that effort.
Industries in Ashe are innovative. They are looking for ways to do what they do better and with less cost. Being parts of giant national and international corporation, they are competing amongst other locations within their corporations to be the shining star.
Improvements like the arrival of natural gas to the county two years ago will pay dividends, he says.
We have all seen the economic advantages of a four-lane highway out of the county. The economic picture changed considerably with the demise of the railroad here. Availability of water must be a part of a decision for a corporate location here.
Above any of these infrastructure initiatives, Robinson believes that training the county’s workforce is the top priority. Of course you might say that he might because he is a college dean.
It is an opinion held by many in economic development in the state, also
North Carolina workers know how to work. They have a good work ethic. What many developers say is that workers often lack math and science skills needed.
They also add the need for workers to develop critical thinking skill. No longer is a worker in industry doing a preset, repetitive job.
He or she is daily called on to solve problems working in teams. North Carolina workers can be good problem solvers. They have a knack for it.
They need the basic skills to understand the problem before they can formulate the solution.
Robinson gives a nod of appreciation to Ashe School Superintendent Travis Reeves for being a part of the solution to workforce training
Finding a way to fund the needed training will be critical. Reeves is facing a $1.5 million cut in state funds for basic education at home. Workforce training is a priority we need to keep pushing to the top.