On July 4, we acknowledged our country’s 241st birthday with fireworks and celebration.
Two days later, more local fireworks and celebration were in order as Starbucks announced a $120 million investment in expanding its Augusta manufacturing plant by 140,000 square feet that will create at least 100 new jobs.
This capped off a four-week period that demonstrated to me that Augusta is not just a cyber center, but also becoming a manufacturing force in the region, state and nation, through the cooperation of the region’s public sector, business community and educational institutions.
The four-week period kicked off with the Manufacturing and Education Connections event hosted by the SRS Community Reuse Organization, held at the Kroc Center June 14. The purpose of this event was to connect manufacturers and educators from Aiken, Allendale, Barnwell, Richmond and Columbia counties to brainstorm ways to better prepare the workforce needed for manufacturers in the region.
Participating manufacturers included Textron, John Deere, Carolina Cover Tech and Swiss Krono, while educational institutions at the K-12, technical college and four-year college levels all attended and shared current programs and ideas for the future.
A program that particularly caught my eye was a partnership between Textron and Richmond County schools called Reaching Potential through Manufacturing, in which Richmond County high school students work at Textron while completing their high-school degree academic requirements. The program is a win-win for Textron and our community, and a model program for how corporations can benefit both themselves and society at large.
The next day, I attended the Georgia Chamber of Commerce’s 2030 2.0 program at the Snelling Center, and its emphasis on manufacturing was striking. In addition to the chamber’s president and CEO, Chris Clark, speakers from John Deere and Textron Specialized Vehicles (formerly E-Z-GO) discussed the growth of manufacturing in the area, but also the need to grow our manufacturing workforce.
So while the good news is that manufacturing is on the rise locally and regionally, we need to be able to provide the workforce to support its growth and success.
Two weeks later, on June 27, I had two more firsthand experiences demonstrating the increasing profile of manufacturing in the area.
In the morning, I participated in the High Demand Career Initiative for East Central Georgia, where representatives from across the region gathered to strategize on which area to focus on for workforce development grants. Because of the growth and need of the region, manufacturing was selected as that focus area, even though health care and cybersecurity also are key industries in the region.
Later that afternoon, I met with executives of John Deere and toured their plant in Grovetown, seeing the impressive growth of Deere’s presence in the area.
While I was digesting all that I had seen and heard relative to manufacturing in the area, Starbucks’ announcement became one more data point of the growing success of manufacturing in the region. I am extremely impressed by the manufacturing presence in the area and these four weeks convinced me that emphasizing manufacturing, logistics and supply chain management in Augusta University’s business school curriculum is necessary to support workforce development of region.
At the Hull College of Business, we will partner with our local manufacturers to insure they have the managerial workforce they need for the future to continue the manufacturing and economic growth of the region. This will include working together to develop curriculum, participating in our classrooms and providing co-op and internship opportunities.
As I have emphasized in my previous columns, we are on the brink of an economic boom in the Augusta area. While this is great news, we have to be prepared to make this boom sustainable. This will require the interaction of the business community, our government agencies and educational institutions at all levels, from K-12 through higher education. Workforce development is the driver for existing businesses to expand in the region and for new businesses to relocate here. Such development is underway, but we need to remain vigilant to support long-term, sustainable economic growth in the region.
Hopefully, this will lead to more celebratory fireworks — and not just on Independence Day.
The writer is dean of Augusta University’s James M. Hull College of Business. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.