Over the last decade, community colleges such as the Technical College of the Lowcountry have gained increased respect for delivering quality higher education at an affordable price. Enrollment boomed during the Great Recession as students of all ages and backgrounds flocked to community colleges to learn a skill in order to get a job. Today, this mission is still paramount: We prepare a diverse student body for worthy careers or for transfer to a four-year university. Our value to students is tangible and direct.
But have you thought about it from a community’s perspective? How does what we do impact you?
TCL’s worth is closely tied to economic development and to the Lowcountry’s quality of life. Locally, “economic development” evokes a wide array of emotion and opinion; what I am referencing is foundational. TCL directly supports our local economy through workforce development that is strategically aligned to mirror economic development’s two primary pillars — business retention/expansion and new business development.
In the last five years alone, TCL has honored more than 1,500 graduates, 93 percent of whom are continuing their education or are working in their field of study. These graduates live here, work here, raise their families here and pay taxes here. They keep our hospitals, construction companies, small businesses, law offices and everything in between open for business. Skilled workers allow businesses to be more profitable and to offer expanded services to residents. The collective contribution of TCL alumni is significant and beneficial to you every single day.
This fall, the college is launching The Center for Business & Workforce Solutions, which will serve as a central point of contact for businesses. The center will help businesses find full- and part-time employees; link businesses to local, state and national resources; and serve as an effective partner to the community and economic development entities.
The college has more work to do on the business retention and expansion side. For example, the resort and tourism industry, the Lowcountry’s No. 1 economic driver, is facing a critical workforce shortage. The culinary sector in particular is suffering: Restaurants are limiting hours; resorts are unable to open their full complement of food and beverage amenities; and patrons are experiencing diminished customer service. Poor service at restaurants impacts residents and tourists alike, but dissatisfied tourists will not return and thus reduce future tax revenue.
According to Nick Unangst of the SERG Group and Clayton Rollison of Lucky Rooster Kitchen and Bar, trained culinarians start at $30,000 to $50,000 annually. With time and experience, those positions can lead to higher-paid management positions. Investing in culinary is a win-win: The industry gets the right workers while residents get good jobs.
Economic diversification is also essential to sustaining economic vitality. What’s TCL role? We ensure that a locally trained, skilled workforce is in place to meet current and future needs.
The Jasper Ocean Terminal, when completed, is expected to bring unprecedented growth, investment and jobs to the area. Now is the time to prepare.
As such, TCL has plans for a Regional Workforce Training Center. This 50,000-square-foot, high-tech facility will be housed at TCL’s New River Campus and will serve as a showcase for workforce development in action, focusing on career training in welding, logistics, electronics, industrial maintenance, aerospace and more. The Regional Workforce Training center will help to support current industry, encourage new industry and give our residents the opportunity to compete for emerging high-skilled jobs.
TCL elevates each student and every community we serve. Much like good economic development, we focus on the same two key areas: retention and growth.
Is community college worth it? Absolutely. In fact, TCL’s greatest impact is local, making you the biggest beneficiary. No matter what, TCL turns potential into reality for individuals, families and communities.
Richard Gough is president of the Technical College of the Lowcountry.