Scuttlebiz: Students2Work program to teach Richmond County students job skills

Given its negative connotation, I almost hesitate using the expression “great leap forward” to describe Augusta’s newest workforce development program.

 

But that’s an apt description for the elementary-education initiative recently unveiled in Richmond County – a place where a large percentage of kids face major challenges to career-building.

In case you missed the news, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Richmond County Board of Education have teamed up to create an internship program called Students2Work, in which 250 eligible high school students get eight-week, paid internships at local employers.

If you’re thinking, “so what?” it means you probably grew up in a home where education was valued, achievement was celebrated and stable employment was the norm. Not everyone has that environment, especially in Richmond County, where just three years ago four in ever 10 students didn’t graduate. (It’s now down to just under three in 10.)

“We find that we have a lot of children who have a disconnect to work,” Richmond County Schools Superintendent Angela Pringle said this past week during a presentation to the Development Authority of Richmond County. “They really are not connecting the education and work … This (Students2Work) is an initiative to get kids in the workforce so they understand what it’s like in the workplace and understand the connectivity between work and education.”

If you’re thinking, “why should I care?” I’ll ask you to focus on the word “care.” Because that’s what you’ll be doing for those on the employment sideline. Without workforce-development programs such as Students2Work and the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce’s Blackboards 2 Business program, Georgia is at risk of becoming what one Peach State business leader recently described as a “donor state.”

“(That is) all the resources being made in the prosperous areas going to take care of people in the unprosperous areas,” Georgia Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Clark told area business leaders in June.

Workforce development is especially vital in metro Augusta, where many jobs of the future – cyber, nuclear, health care and advanced manufacturing – require higher education, a technical certificate or on-the-job training.

Augusta-Aiken has a choice: It can continue importing large numbers of high-skill workers or it can “grow our own.” Most would agree it’s easier to recruit someone from across town than from across the country.

Pringle reported recent additions to the county’s computer-science program, including the rollouts of “one-to-one” laptop programs at Freedom Park Elementary and Murphey Middle schools, where students also will receive basic instruction in computer coding.

The Students2Work program comes on the heels of the highly successful Reaching Potential for Manufacturing at Textron Specialized Vehicles. The RPM program lets students earn their diploma while earning money and skills building components for E-Z-GO golf cars and other Textron vehicles.

RPM targets at-risk students; Students2Work targets everyone. To be eligible, a students must be at least 16 and pass a drug test and background check. The only barrier to growing the program is finding companies willing to spend the time and $2,100 on a sponsorship.

So far, more than 100 businesses have committed to the program, said Fran Forehand, the chamber’s Student Workforce Committee chairwoman, during the unveiling of the initiative at the Chamber Economic Luncheon two weeks ago.

Businesses interested in participating can contact the Chamber’s Jonathan Davis at (706) 821-1302, or at jonathan.davis@augustametrochamber.com. The initiative’s website is students2work.org.

“The research is very clear,” said Forehand, regional vice president for Georgia Power. “High-school students who have an opportunity to gain real-world knowledge in a professional work environment during a summer internship will likely emerge with a better career, more motivated to continue their education and more aware of employment opportunities that can meet their expectations and future goals.”

Workforce development isn’t just a pressing economic issue for the region – it’s a challenge for the state and the rest of the nation.

Communities that can supply an ample number of motivated, skilled and workplace-ready individuals to do tomorrow’s jobs will thrive. Those that don’t will wither.

It really is that simple.

 

WHAT A COINCIDENCE: Workforce development was among the topics I touched on during my presentation to the CSRA Home Connections networking breakfast this past week.

But mostly, my talk was an analysis of the metro area economy (short version: things are good) and some interesting tidbits on the Augusta-Aiken economy, including this little nugget: If our seven-county area was a country, it’s $23.9 billion gross metro product would make it the world’s 106th largest economy.

Yep, one notch ahead of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus (main exports: citrus, potatoes and cement).

By the way, CSRA Home Connections – a business-to-business group affiliated with Century 21 Larry Miller Realty – also hands out the most stunning “speaker gifts” I’ve ever seen: custom, laser-etched crystals by Etched Memory of Evans.

 

JUST FILLING IN: Coming soon to a decades-old west Augusta neighborhood: new homes.

If you’ve noticed the large tract of land being cleared along the 3000 block of Walton Way, then you’ve seen the early stages of the Mayfair on Walton Way development, an “infill” subdivision whose 10 single-family home lots will go up for sale this week.

Sandwiched between the well-established Murray Hills and Westwick subdivisions on an extremely deep and narrow 6½-acre tract, the neighborhood is marketed to young professionals and empty-nesters looking to trade suburban commutes for proximity to the central city’s jobs, entertainment and culture.

“We have a long list of people who are interested,” developer Jim Trotter said. “We envision most of the people will be people in their 50s and 60s looking for a full-size single family home with a small yard.”

Mayfair’s lots are compact, but it’s not going to be a “patio home” development, Trotter said. Buyers can have homes custom-built on one of the eight small parcels along the future “Mayfair-Abbey Lane” or on one of the two 1-acre lots at the far north end of the property.

The neighborhood’s full layout is available at mayfaironwalton.com for those interested in putting up $185,000 to $230,000 for a lot.

“This was really one of the last undeveloped parcels on Walton Way,” Trotter said of the tract. “It’s a good in-fill for Richmond County, and we think the demand is there for people already in Richmond County or even people in Columbia County wanting to move back into town and have a nice new house.”

 

MISSION MILESTONE: Home-grown software company Zapata Technology announced this past week it’s 10th year of providing military intelligence software and support services to the Department of Defense.

The company, housed at Enterprise Mill, was formed by Illinois native Randall Zapata in 2007 after he separated from the 513th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Gordon. Today he has 76 employees working across eight states and Afghanistan.

Hooah!

CYBER TIME: Mr. Zapata is one of several speakers scheduled for the inaugural Invest Augusta Cyber Conference at the Legends Club on Sept. 28.

The networking event organized by “serial entrepreneur” Tony Lever will bring together the region’s “leading cyber and tech companies to build relationships and grow their footprint in the Augusta market.”

The daylong event, which includes presentation’s from representatives of the Fort Gordon Cyber District, U.S. Cyber Command and Augusta University, ends with an after-party at The Pinnacle Club.

Wanna hob-nob with the tech squad? Check out investaugusta.com for more details.

 

HIGH HEELS IN HIGH PLACES: Something else you might be interested in – the Augusta Metro Chamber’s 2017 Women in Business Signature Event on Oct. 19.

This year’s featured speaker will be Becky Blalock, former chief information officer for Southern Co. and author of the bestselling book, Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge. She’s currently the managing partner at Advisory Capital, an Atlanta-based consulting firm.

The “Dare to be … A Woman in Business” signature event begins at 6 p.m. at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center. The next Women in Business luncheon is scheduled Sept. 19 at 11:30 a.m. at the Legends Club, featuring Dr. Francisco J. Jacome and Beth Norton of Doctors Hospital discussing healthy lifestyle habits.

Get details on both gatherings at augustametrochamber.com.

 

SOMETHING ELSE FOR THE LADIES: If you dare to be … a woman who hunts, you can go to Cabela’s Ladies’ Day Out event on Sept. 23. Stop by between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for hands-on activities involving archery, shotgun sports and fly-fishing. There’s even a Refuse To Be A Victim self-defense seminar.

 

HELL’S KITCHEN: You know, for a metro region about to cross the 600,000-person threshold, this place can sure feel like a small town.

I’m reminded of this when I bump into friends and acquaintances at community events, such as this weekend’s Arts in the Heart of Augusta festival. The feeling also creeps in when I see people become enraptured by whatever new retail or restaurant chain comes to town.

(But maybe that’s understandable considering we didn’t get a free-standing Starbucks until 2004, though I’d say the company’s $290 million plant in south Augusta more than makes up for that oversight.)

Perhaps the most telltale sign of our community’s small-town feel is when I see businesses that should succeed fail by overestimating the market’s tolerance for sub-par business practices.

Let’s face it: This town’s not big enough for a company to survive on one-time sales alone. Also, word-of-mouth gets around fast .

And that just might explain why the lights are off at Prestige Appliance.

Since the Aiken-based company’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing roughly two weeks ago, I’ve been contacted almost daily by aggrieved customers who claim they were treated cavalierly at the retailer’s Aiken and Augusta showrooms, the latter opened just a year ago.

When the independent appliance retailer abruptly ceased operations, it apparently did so owing many high-end ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers. One customer said her unfilled order was $4,400. Another said her bill was $12,000. One customer told me her $2,500 icemaker has been MIA since it went to Prestige for a warranty repair in July.

In all, Prestige owes money to at least 118 businesses and individuals, according to its bankruptcy filing.

There is no evidence Prestige engaged in criminal activity. But that doesn’t mean it’s squeaky clean, either. Companies generally don’t declare bankruptcy on a whim – warning signs are usually present long before a petition is filed.

So the question is: When did Prestige know insolvency was imminent? And did it take appliance orders and warranty-repair jobs knowing it couldn’t deliver the goods?

I’d ask the question directly to Prestige’s managing partner, Doug Huffer, if he would return my call or email. I suspect he and his fellow investors have been advised to stay mum by their Columbia, S.C., attorney.

Prestige creditors and former customers, meanwhile, will have to stand by while the case worms its way through the courts. And at the end, once the company is liquidated, they could end up getting reimbursed only pennies on the dollar – or nothing at all.

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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