Industry officials and others are hailing Sumter School District's recent purchase of lots fronting Broad Street for a new technical high school/center as potentially a big win for workforce development in the community.
On Oct. 27, the school …
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On Oct. 27, the school district purchased Bubba's Diner, 841 Broad St., and the adjoining lot, formerly the site of Central Park fast-food restaurant, for $890,000 with special one-time funding from the state Legislature in partnership with the state Technical College System and Central Carolina Technical College. If the district's construction plan comes to fruition, the new school will be next to Central Carolina's state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing Technology Training Center, 853 Broad St., which opened in August 2015.
Last year, the district also purchased other commercial property lots in two strip plazas near CCTC's training center with state funding. One plaza strip adjoins CCTC's facility on the right, and the second runs perpendicular to the first.
Kevin Johnson, BD plant manager and chairman of Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce's Industrial Association, said coming from his position as a manufacturing plant manager, any stronger link between a technical high school and Central Carolina is good news.
Sumter has long been known as an industrial community with a relatively high concentration of jobs in the manufacturing sector, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"It's exciting for us as a manufacturer," Johnson said. "If we can continue to feed students into technical college programs and make them 'technical ready' for our jobs in the industry, it's only going to grow this community. It seems potentially like a wonderful feeder program."
Brian Rauschenbach, project manager with the Sumter Economic Development Board staff, said having close proximity for a technical high school with a technical college or a manufacturer is a growing trend in the state. Before joining the Sumter Development Board staff, Rauschenbach worked for Apprenticeship Carolina, a division of the state Technical College System, where he helped develop youth apprenticeship programs across the Palmetto State.
He said the concept builds brand awareness for the technical college and emphasizes the need for post-secondary education beyond the high school level for today's higher-skilled manufacturing jobs.
"Kids today need more than a high school diploma to be successful," Rauschenbach said. "They need some type of technical skill via a certificate program or an associate degree from postsecondary education. It's the training of the future."
He said the concept can set a solid path for students who want to pursue a manufacturing career with solid pay and benefits.
State Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, echoed those sentiments and pointed to Kershaw County - just north of Sumter County - with a public school district currently building a new technical high school next to Central Carolina's sub-campus off Interstate 20 near Camden. CCTC serves the four-county region of Sumter, Kershaw, Lee and Clarendon, and it expanded its coverage in Kershaw within the last decade by building the new sub-campus.
Building more linkages to the technical college is critical for Sumter and surrounding counties to satisfy the growing workforce needs of business and industry.
"We have to grow our workforce as a community," Smith said. "Business and industry here need qualified employees and individuals who are already trained and ready to enter the workforce. And this concept - we need to follow it. It's working in other areas of the state, and it's time for us to implement it in our region."
School district officials have said previously that University of South Carolina Sumter and Morris College could also have a role in the new school, but because the school is still in its early stages, those plans have not yet been fleshed out.
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