As a young boy, Terry Elam watched workers build the Continental Can plant from the porch of his great uncle's south Richmond County home.
He saw the factory, now owned by International Paper, bring prosperity to the community by giving average folks the opportunity to earn an honest wage.
Four decades later, part of Mr. Elam's job as president of Augusta Technical Institute is to bring more industry to the city, so more of its residents can make a decent living.
"If you're not producing goods and services, your job market is going to take a beating," he said.
Augusta Tech is better known for academics (it provides degrees and certificates for various programs including nursing and marketing), but two of its five mission statements are slanted toward local economic development.
Mr. Elam and his staff work quietly with state and local industry recruiters on virtually every local business prospect.
There's good reason for Augusta Tech's inclusion in the recruitment process: The no-cost employee training and manufacturing assistance programs are incentives new companies can't resist.
"Very few companies look at Augusta without coming to Augusta Tech," he said.
It's for this reason that Mr. Elam, 49, has earned memberships on boards of local economic development groups such as the Development Authority of Richmond County and the Savannah River Regional Diversification Initiative.
Mr. Elam and his staff are among the first to meet with new and expanding businesses. However, their work provides them little public recognition.
"We work in an anonymous fashion, we know that," Mr. Elam said, adding that his staff go all over the world to help bring local industry the newest in manufacturing technologies.
"We have had people go as far as Austria and Switzerland," he said.
One of the most powerful incentives in Mr. Elam's economic development arsenal is the Quick Start program, a state-funded initiative to entice companies to create new jobs by providing them with no-cost customized employee training.
Augusta Tech's most recent Quick Start agreement was signed in May with Delta Air Lines to develop an employee training program for the company's newly built call reservation center off River Watch Parkway.
Many familiar Augusta industries, such as Procter & Gamble Co., rely on the program to reduce the time and costs associated with training employees to use specialized manufacturing equipment.
"Procter & Gamble is in the soap business, not the education business," Mr. Elam said. "They depend on us to run their training for them -- we put their body of knowledge on paper."
Mr. Elam, who started his teaching career at the Academy of Richmond County in the early 1970s, has been at Augusta Tech since 1982, serving in various student services positions and as vice president of economic development.
He was appointed to the presidency in 1996 to replace retiring president Jack B. Patrick.
His short time in office has been marked by several major developments, including completion of satellite campuses in Waynesboro and Thomson. The expansion helps serve students in McDuffie, Burke and Jefferson Counties who previously had to commute to the 70-acre main campus off Deans Bridge Road.
Mr. Elam and other local officials have considered building a Columbia County campus although funding, so far, has been difficult to come by. Until the estimated $1.2 million for the first phase of construction can be found, running the 5,000-student institution will continue to be Mr. Elam's pressing concern.
The school, like the state's 33 other technical institutes, offers degrees, diplomas and certificates in a variety of careers ranging from auto mechanic to emergency medical technician.
College-age students and older adults use the institution as an alternative to more expensive four-year liberal arts colleges, which tend to emphasize a well-rounded education over industry-specific skills.
Mr. Elam is a firm believer in technical schools providing a better way of life to those with limited opportunities.
He believes the technical institutes played a vital role in helping transform the South from a mostly agricultural-based economy to a more industrialized region during the past few decades.
He believes many who left the South during the pre-civil rights era for opportunities elsewhere might have stayed, including his older brother, Richard, who left Georgia for California shortly after graduating high school in 1960.
"He didn't want to go to college, the truth of the matter was he probably wasn't college material," he recalled. "I'll never forget seeing him get on that train. I asked my momma why he was leaving. She said because he couldn't find a job."
"I think today, if he could have waited another year, he could have gained the skills he needed," he said. "He might have never left Augusta."
Name: Terry D. Elam
Born: Jan. 30, 1950, Augusta
Family: Married to Patricia, has two children
Title: President of Augusta Technical Institute
School: University of Georgia, master's degree in education; Paine College, bachelor's degree in history
History: Started professional career as a teacher at Academy of Richmond County. Went to Augusta Technical Institute in 1982 and served as an instructor, recruiter, director of admissions and vice president of economic development before his appointment to president in 1997.
Civic: Board member for the American Red Cross, Development Authority of Richmond County, Walton Rehabilitation Hospital, Savannah River Regional Diversification Initiative the CSRA Regional Development Center and the CSRA Classic; member of South Richmond County Optimist Club.
What they are saying
"A lot of things make people effective, but the thing that makes Terry effective is his clear understanding of what private sector business and industry need in terms of education."
-- Ken Breeden, commissioner of Georgia State Board of Technical and Adult Education
"Augusta Tech is very much an unsung hero as far as economic development is concerned. They do a lot of the leg work, the quiet work. We're fortunate to have Terry in there to make the projects happen."
-- Dot Knox, chairman of the board, Augusta Technical Institute
"He's very vital during the talks with new industry. He's very familiar with the workforce in the area -- he can talk about what skills are out there. Aside from that, he's an excellent educator and community leader."
-- Tommy Stone, Georgia Power district manager and Savannah River Regional Diversification Initiative
Damon Cline covers business for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3486.
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