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Education: Tech plans $6M expansion to train industry workers

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A plan to create a $6 million center for advanced manufacturing at the local campus of Horry-Georgetown Tech will help train the workforce drawn to the county by the dredging of the Port of Georgetown, according college officials.

“It’s going to be huge,” said Greg Mitchell, provost of the local campus and head of workforce development, speaking about the port’s potential. “We have to bring in line economic development, workforce development and education.”

The 25,000-square-foot center will be funded through the federal Economic Development Administration and state funds. The Georgetown County School District will help fund equipment, Superintendent Randy Dozier said.

The facility will accommodate up to 200 students in welding, machine tool technology, robotics and “mechtronics,” a field that blends several engineering disciplines.

The technical college wants the school district to create a “technical scholars” program that will let high school students graduate with a diploma and certification in one of the advanced manufacturing fields. It plans to start next year with a welding program taught at Georgetown High and Andrews High. The college already has the program running in Horry County.

“The number of applicants and job opportunities have even astonished us,” Marilyn Fore, senior vice president at the college, told the school board this week.

The concept is similar to the Pace classes Horry-Gerorgetown Tech offers district students that allow them to earn college credit while still in high school. “Georgetown County has always been the one that’s come to us and said ‘you need to do more skills training,’” Fore said.

The college will recruit high school juniors and seniors for the welding program. It plans to move the program to the new facility and expand the offerings, she said. With funds from the state lottery, the tuition will be $330 for two courses.

The key to attracting industry is “the quality of the workforce,” Mitchell said. “We need to be on the same page. I think we are.”

The school district also wants to expand its career-oriented classes. A renovation of the career center on the Georgetown High campus is under discussion as is construction of a career center at the Waccamaw High campus as part of a capital improvement plan.

The technical college program “is separate and apart from what we’re doing,” Dozier said. “We don’t want to duplicate services.”

He estimates the district’s contribution to the college’s manufacturing center will be $200,000 to $250,000 in equipment and classroom set-up. It’s already funded equipment for the current welding program the college teaches in Andrews and Georgetown.

“It’s hard for us to find instructors at that level,” Dozier said, which makes the partnership ideal. “I think whatever we invest for kids to stay in Georgetown County and become productive will be returned to us.”

He’s putting together a committee to develop the district capital plan and expects it to start work in the spring.

School board members have said repeatedly that the district needs to expand career programs for students who aren’t headed to a four-year college. “I fully support the development of this program,” Board Member Richard Kerr said following the presentation from tech officials. “We should work with them.”

He was skeptical of the claim that the port dredging will drive a need for trained manufacturing workers. “We’ve got a lot of things we need to do first,” Kerr said.

And while it’s important to have a skilled workforce in the county, as a school board member he said he’s also concerned that students graduate with skills that will help them wherever they work. “That’s what I’ve been pushing,” Kerr said.

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