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South Carolina Counties Investing in Workforce Development

Community Conversation South Carolina
Bank President Tom Barkin spoke to the Economic Development Alliance of Pickens County during a Community Conversations visit to South Carolina.

The Richmond Fed’s Community Conversations team recently learned how Pickens County and Oconee County in South Carolina are making strides to develop a vibrant local workforce.

The two adjacent counties sit in the northwest part of the state and serve as manufacturing hubs in the region. Pickens County manufacturing operations focus primarily on chemical, textile, plastics and composites, while manufacturing companies representing more than 60 industries are based in Oconee.

During a November 13–14 visit to the area, Richmond Fed President Tom Barkin, Regional Executive Matthew Martin and Community Development Regional Manager Erika Bell met with business, civic and county leaders to share updates on the economy and learn about the economic opportunities and challenges in both areas.

“There is a labor shortage in Pickens and Oconee, as we’ve seen in other smaller towns,” Martin said. “In both places, however, it’s pretty clear that the economic developers, school districts and business communities all understand they need a pipeline of steady workers. They are working together to prepare students so they can employ them locally.”

Both counties, for example, operate career and technology centers that partner with their local high schools to recruit students to take courses during part of the academic day. The high schools provide transportation to the technical centers and are finding ways to reward students who embrace the additional training, including granting them certifications when they graduate.

Pickens County has trademarked its experience for students participating in classes at the Pickens County Career & Technology Center as the “Scholar Technician” program.

“They have shifted the perspective that enrolling in technical center classes is for struggling students to one that recognizes the students’ technical talent and makes them career ready,” Bell said. “It has become a highly sought after career pathway in Pickens.”

The Hamilton Career and Technology Center in Oconee boasts 26 career and technical education classes for students to choose from, including welding and culinary arts. The center is adjacent to Hamilton Technical College, which affords students the additional opportunity to dually enroll there for course credits.

Another highlight of the Richmond Fed’s Community Conversations visit to Oconee was the warm welcome offered by Kyle Thomas, who recently joined the Bank’s Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council (CDIAC).

“He shared with the attendees of a morning breakfast meeting what he is learning as a CDIAC member,” Martin said. “It is powerful to know that we will continue to have an ongoing connection to this community because of his participation.”

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