Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida Gateway College Focusing on the 3E's: Education - Econ Dev - Good Paying Employment

Florida Gateway College (FGC) wants to be a partner and driver in economic development in North Florida. We do great things at FGC. In the nine months that I have been here I have been learning a lot about our region: looking, researching, engaging, and listening about the good – the bad – and the ugly, and also the challenges and opportunities that we have.

I have served as a Dean, Vice Chancellor and President in three other states. I was actively engaged in economic development activities in all three.

While there are similarities and differences on how communities and states handle economic development, all realize that education at both the k-12 level and post k-12 play important roles in economic development. Successful regions realize there are differences between economic development and workforce development (training) and that they need to work closely with each other.

In the states in which I have worked, all believed they had well-educated, skilled workforces and stressed their workforce was hard working diligent.

Brain Drain & Competition

All spoke about and discussed the issue of “brain drain,” where the best and brightest students left the area and did not come back, or came back at the end of their lives. Each region talked about addressing the situation.

The competiveness in seeking new businesses was intense. There was a sense of distrust between economic development agencies and private search firms, and also among education providers.

After spending some time in Florida I found that right-to-work states and union states are very different.

In union states, at the earliest stages of economic development, colleges and primary schools worked collaboratively to recruit companies. They addressed declining industries to make them more efficient and educated.

In North Florida, if we do absolutely nothing, I see a region that will naturally grow in population and in some industries. I would not rely on people-driven growth. People-driven growth will not enable the region or college to leverage the strengths we have.

We will be challenged as a region by our Internet connectivity. This is the number one issue. Our population is frustrated and spends a lot of money for bad service.

I was recently at a new Tire Store that opened in Lake City. Its number one frustration was Internet connectivity with its corporate offices. Three employees, who came from Ocala, told me, "Lake City is in the dark ages with Internet." I have met with all of our superintendents in the area that FGC serves and they all have significant challenges for connectivity. Connectivity is a key facet for economic development in the region.

Income — Education

Income levels in our region are much lower than the state and the nation.

Per capita income in the last 12 months (2014 dollars), 2010-2014  – US Census, tells the story.

       • U.S.: $28,555 • Florida: $26,499 • Columbia County: $19,884

Education levels in our region at the high school level are on par with the nation, but post high school the levels are much lower than the state and the nation.

In Columbia County, the percentage of those graduating from high school is only 1.9% lower than the U.S. average of 86.3%.

However, when it comes to those attaining college degrees, Columbia County lags behind both the U.S. at 29.3%; Florida at 26.8%; and at less than half of the U.S. average Columbia County is at 14.1%.

When we talk about economic development, people want a trained workforce.

Playing an Important Role in North FL Economic Development

What role do I see Florida Gateway College playing in Economic Development for North Florida?

FGC needs to be involved. If I had my way, we would be involved with every project in our 5 county region. We can help explain the talent, i.e., the educated workforce that we have already. We can work with everyone to develop the human capital that is needed to recruit and retain companies, and we can be at the table explaining what we and our students can do for potential companies.

FGC is looking is already looking at ways to retrain and educate those students over the age of 24.

Those under the age of 24 do not have much post-secondary education. Training and education are key to making them productive members of a vibrant local workforce.  FGC can be agile and impactful in this area.

Finally, I would encourage public and private partnerships to increase our economic development. My firm belief is if we work together the 3 E's are the key to success: Economic development + Education = good paying Employment.

That is what we are going to focus on at FCG.

Dr. Lawrence Barrett has been president of FGC since July, 2015, coming from a background of 4 year, community, and technical colleges. He is a genuiinely nice guy. He can be reached at: Lawrence.Barrett@fgc.edu

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