With a national economy in the longest post-war expansion, a continuing refrain from employers across the country is that the labor market is tight and the workforce lacking in sorely needed skills.
Many counties in the United States have declining working-age populations and shrinking talent pipelines. But that’s not the case here in the Piedmont Triad. We have added more than 125,000 residents in the last 10 years and are fortunate to have 11 four-year colleges and universities ensuring the ongoing growth and quality of our local talent pipeline.
More than 60,000 students are pursuing degrees on these campuses this school year, and more than 27,000 degrees are conferred each year. If we add students pursuing degrees at our excellent community colleges, the total is more than 100,000 students. Our population and pipeline are growing and our workforce is gaining education and skills.
At North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, we are responding to opportunities and challenges with programs aligned to the region’s economic development goals. This year, we have initiated new centers of excellence to connect with and feed promising industry sectors. Our Center of Excellence in Advanced Manufacturing, for instance, will build on our excellence in materials science while connecting resources of the Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanoengineering and Gateway Research Park.
We will connect students, faculty and researchers with relevant employers to help ensure that our curriculum and industry needs remain aligned. I know that we at A&T and other campuses are also intent on matching curriculum, students and faculty with the sectors and companies that are driving our economy, such as health care, manufacturing, and technology and management occupations.
Agencies like the Piedmont Triad Partnership have identified these sectors as most promising for future employment and economic growth in central North Carolina. With partners in local economic development agencies and the state of North Carolina, this region is focused on growing and attracting employers in advanced industries that will provide high-quality jobs and career pathways for our neighbors.
The strong colleges and universities in the region are part of the attraction for these employers; they contribute far beyond their education outcomes. Our quality of life and regional amenities include the beautiful campuses, cultural and athletic events and talented faculty and staff, as well as professional development and undergraduate and graduate degree programs available to them and their families.
It should also be noted that many of our graduates take jobs in other states after graduation. Before they do, we make sure they have knowledge of and connections to the communities and employers surrounding our university. When their careers provide opportunity to consider return to the Triad via a new position or promotion, that knowledge will help them decide to come back and join the talented workforce of our region. (That happens more often than you might think: Recent analysis from Carolina Demography shows that one in six people moving to North Carolina has lived in this state before.)
Serving with me on the board of directors of the Piedmont Triad Partnership to help leverage these opportunities are President Nido Qubein of High Point University, President Nathan O. Hatch of Wake Forest University and President Connie Book of Elon University. We are actively exploring how we can connect and leverage the tremendous power of our institutions to further the economic development goals of our region and to further enhance the local talent pipeline. We are also reaching out to other higher education leaders in the region to fully include the wide array programs, industry connections and work-based learning opportunities that all of our campuses provide.
By forging a substantive collaboration, we can contribute even more significantly to the economic progress of our region and state. In so doing, we can put our strategic advantage to great use, both in the near term and for a very bright long-term future.