GUEST COLUMN: The impact of public-private partnerships in N.C.

Mar. 27, 2014 @ 04:59 AM

During one of my many visits to Lee County, I learned about a one-of-a-kind initiative taking place in our local community colleges. The Central Carolina Works Initiative and the Lee County Innovation Center are two public-private partnerships that are seeking to expand educational opportunities to students across Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. Central Carolina Community College (CCCC) has played a vital role in securing both of these public-private education partnerships, and it is exactly the type of forward-thinking that our state — and our nation — needs more of if we are to break the mold in terms of providing and increasing educational opportunities. Most importantly, these initiatives have served as an avenue to economic recovery within our rural area, prompting job creation and economic growth, and it is my hope that we will create more in the future. 

Central Carolina Works is one of two initiatives launched by CCCC that is geared toward assisting our students. Spearheaded by Kirk Bradley, a businessman in Sanford, this initiative will allow for academic and career advisors to be placed in each of the public high schools in Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. Advisors will work side by side with students, building personal relationships with each, and encouraging them to enroll in the Career and College Promise Program. This program is a dual-enrollment program that allows for high school students to matriculate, tuition-free, into college-level courses and obtain up to a year or more of college coursework debt-free. This gives our students an incredible opportunity — providing them with a jump-start on their college education before they even graduate high school.

As of now, only five percent of eligible high school seniors take advantage of the dual-enrollment program. This number is unacceptable, and is another reason why I am excited about the opportunities in the Central Carolina Works Initiative. It is the first of its kind in our state, and will be instrumental in providing additional educational opportunities to students who could not otherwise afford them. In addition to providing our students with the chance to further their education, this initiative also gives our region a significant economic advantage when competing against other cities and states for business. 

The Lee County Innovation Center is another example of the good that can be achieved through public-private partnerships, and I was grateful for the chance to visit there during my time in the district. The Lee County Innovation Center seeks to broaden educational opportunities to students by providing those interested in the technical or trade route with on-site, hands-on-training in the field of advanced manufacturing — such as welding, hydraulics and pneumatics. There are numerous private-sector companies in our district who have benefitted from the Innovation Center, including Saab, Tyson Foods and Caterpillar Inc., in Sanford.

North Carolina has a reputation for its stellar community college and university system, and I am particularly proud of the four community colleges within my district, as they have been crucial to making our state’s business climate more competitive. The education our students receive through the Central Carolina Works Initiative and the training they acquire through the Lee County Innovation Center only increase our edge. 

Companies want people who can perform at a high level and have the necessary skill sets to make their industries thrive. We need to create more jobs in North Carolina, and these initiatives have proven they are capable of doing just that. These educational initiatives are unlike anything else in our state, and CCCC should be celebrated for their efforts in piloting such a revolutionary program.

* Renee Ellmers is serving her second term as U.S. Congresswoman representing North Carolina's second district in the House of Representatives. She currently serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is chairman of the Republican Women's Policy Committee.