By NANCY MCCLEARY, The Sanford Herald
A big bonus when Sanford Area Growth Alliance officers are looking to lure lucrative economic development projects to Lee County is Central Carolina Community College's workforce training programs.
"The award-winning CCCC plays a major role in every large project we work," said Michael Smith, executive director of Economic Development for SAGA.
It's the workforce training program established at the community college that draws the attention of visiting businessmen, Smith said.
Specialized courses offer training -- hands-on and classroom courses -- for specific skills like those needed in manufacturing, biotechnology and bioprocessing.
Cathy L. Swindell and Margaret Roberton couldn't agree more.
Roberton is vice president for Workforce Development while Swindell is director of Industry Services at Central Carolina.
"When you try to attract a company, part of the package is the workforce," Roberton said. "You're not just attracting new businesses, you're creating opportunities for the people who live here."
Specifically, workforce is one of five things considered in economic development, she said. Those areas include the available infrastructure such as existing buildings, utilities, broadband internet service and water, Roberton said.
Swindell develops customized training programs in manufacturing industries. When a prospective industrial operation is considering Lee County as a site, they want to know what you have, she said
"If we've got a metal fabricator company coming in, they want to know what can you do, training-wise, to skill up employees once they're hired," she said.
Bharat Forge, an auto component manufacturer, is opening a facility in Sanford in coming months. The company has worked with Swindell to develop a training program for new employees.
Like everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced some changes to instruction with more coursework offered online, Swindell said.
"There's only so much you can do online, but we've managed," she said. "Some industries have gone totally online for training while others are online and hands-on training with reduced class sizes."
Swindell is working on 10 training programs ranging from advanced manufacturing to pharmaceutical to food processing to automotive areas.
"The one common denominator (for a program) is they have to be a manufacturer of some sort," Swindell said.
Involvement isn't just in manufacturing, food processing or biotechnology, Roberton said.
If training in an area such as construction is needed, the college has the ability to develop a program, she said.
"There's not a business that's left out because it's manufacturing, but we look to address it in a different way with different resources," she said.
The cost for training is often included in incentive packages offered by SAGA, Roberton said.
Roberton and Swindell said Sanford and Lee County residents can compete for higher-paying jobs and, in doing so, improve their communities.
"Some of the trends I'm seeing is that businesses are starting to look at the quality of work life and the quality of life away from work for employees," Swindell said.
That includes educational and recreational facilities for children.
"We're a development engine," Roberton said. "If we're in the conversation and part of the attraction to draw a company here, that puts tax dollars into the community and provides good jobs."
The key factor, Roberton said, is Central Carolina Community College working with SAGA.
"It comes down to partnerships," she said. "We're fortunate to have a solid relationship with SAGA and to be able to help.
Smith praised the college's work with SAGA in trying to bring economic development to the county.
"They do an outstanding job with our clients and are a key part of any success we have bringing new jobs to Sanford and Lee County," he said.
Cathy Swindell is CCCC Director of Industry Services.
Margaret Roberton is CCCC Vice President for Workforce Development.