Cultivating the Workforce of the 21st Century
Hello again, voters. I hope you all were able to take time this past weekend to stay inside and spend time in a dry place. I’m so thankful that we dodged the worst of flooding from Hurricane Florence. Now that the storm is over, I’ve seen a lot of people stepping up to help those in the Eastern part of the state who are still under water and I am reminded of the caring spirit of helping our neighbors in times of need.
I recently had a chance to visit the traveling Smithsonian exhibit entitled “The Way We Worked” at the History Museum in Newton. It documents the changes Catawba County underwent as we transitioned from an agricultural to an industrial economy. It also showed just how important the furniture, hosiery, and textile industries were to the economic development of this area.
In 1962, 10 percent of all the nation’s hosiery and soft textiles were made in Catawba County. Almost everyone in the county worked for either a furniture or textile factory.
I have been involved with the hosiery industry in Catawba County for over 35 years, and it is what brought me here to live in the late 90’s.
This area is in the midst of another major transformation. We all have seen the impact of many flagship local furniture companies and hosiery mills decreasing production, consolidating or moving their entire operations out of the area.
Although today, Hickory is experiencing a renaissance of new energy in the textile and furniture arenas, we are also competing to attract new kinds of companies, including fiber optics, like Corning, and data servers, such as Google. And, unfortunately, this part of Catawba County, district 96, is losing out to some of our neighbors. Lenoir, Morganton, even Maiden are successfully attracting large-scale production facilities while Hickory seems to be losing out.
Unemployment is historically low right now which means there’s a high demand for people to fill jobs. But, employers want to hire workers with the skills they need, so this is where the importance of public/private training programs comes in.
Most of us have heard of the K-64 program, but you may not know some of the things it does. Think of it like a wheel, and K-64 is in the middle. Each spoke is a different program designed to help people move forward in the economy. This groundbreaking program has helped hundreds of Catawba County workers learn real-world skills that train them for specific jobs. This type of partnership could become a model for other areas as a way to use state resources and best practices from the private sector to ensure workers are prepared for the jobs that will be available.
K-64 isn’t the only jobs-assistance resource in the area. The Western Piedmont Workforce Development Board, Workforce Solutions, and NCWorks provide all kinds of assistance to workers who are seeking skills, training, and certification, to advance in their careers.
I know, firsthand, the insecurity of losing your job to outsourcing. Unlike my opponent, a commercial real estate developer, I know what it is like to go to school for something, only to have the traditional career path shift and turn, forcing me to expand my skill-sets and change my planned course.
It is vitally important that we seriously address developing local talent and expand on the good work already being done. We must provide incentives and infrastructure for companies to hire locals and provide opportunities to advance through the ranks of management. We must invest in our public schools so that our workers are better prepared for the jobs of the 21st century and they will see that this is a great place to make a life and raise a family.
One of the things that is clear to me, as I talk to workers, community leaders, economic development experts, and all concerned residents of the greater-Hickory area, is that people are eager to work to improve their lives but are struggling to connect their skills with the work available.
Thanks for watching. Check out my website and socials media. Please considering bringing your Hurricane Florence relief supplies to the Transportation Insight Center in Hickory for the people dealing with flooding and displacement.
Thanks for being here.