AIKEN - In celebration of its 25th birthday, Aiken Technical College is taking on its most ambitious fund-raising campaign to date.
But the $1.75 million goal over the next five years has the ambitious target of helping offset the economic blows of layoffs at the Savannah River Site.
About 100 college, community and business leaders attended a kickoff breakfast Thursday and got the good news that the school's Anniversary Campaign already had reached 56 percent of its goal - $982,500 in pledges.
Chris Verenes, co-chairman of the Advance Division for the campaign, said the pledges were made by area businesses contacted within the past six weeks.
"I've got to tell you we've got a long way to go," he said. "Having $982,000 is very comforting but I would challenge each and every one of you to become part of this campaign."
The funds raised will pay for capital improvements at Aiken Tech and support a five-year strategic plan to enhance and accelerate work force training and economic development in the area.
Only two weeks ago, the latest round of pink slips went out to about 500 workers at SRS. Site officials estimate that about 1,500 jobs will be lost this fiscal year, ranging from clerical positions to engineers.
"Because of SRS and the transition the entire community is going through, the Aiken Technical College Foundation task force wanted to focus on economic and work force development," said ATC President Kathleen Noble. "ATC needs million and millions of dollars for many things. But, it was felt this (focus) would have the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time for where we need to go."
While the rest of the country is enjoying good economic news, Aiken County isn't as lucky, North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones said.
"We're in a little bit of a unique situation now. For one, we're not doing as good (economically) as a lot of places," he said. "ATC will play a pivotal role in getting us back where we ought to be."
About $365,000 is needed each of the five years to fund expanded academic and training programs to include downtown Aiken, the Midland Valley area, North Augusta and outlying areas of the county. Some 35 corporate, community and government leaders crafted the strategic plan, and another 75 people reviewed and approved the plan.