Last week, I returned to my local tire store to have a slow leak repaired. The technician was shocked, because I had driven 60,000 miles since the tires were purchased in April 2017. Let’s face it: when one works in and across rural North Carolina, tires pick up a lot of mileage.
That encounter had me thinking about the great tire manufacturers who have significant operations in North Carolina, including the forthcoming Triangle Tyre project in Edgecombe County, just east of Golden LEAF headquarters. This new venture, the Chinese company’s first US manufacturing plant, would hire over 800 and invest over $560 million into a world-class enterprise.
The plant will be constructed in the middle of current farmland, in the heart of tobacco country. Golden LEAF was proud to invest in the public infrastructure necessary to help develop the site and give confidence that the plant could be constructed.
But that was not the biggest challenge. No, the biggest challenge facing many rural counties is access to enough willing and skilled people to fill the jobs out there. It is – as one author has proclaimed – the war for talent, a war my friend and NC Chamber CEO Lew Ebert keeps reminding us is upon North Carolina.
The Golden LEAF Board helped give our regional tire manufacturers assurances that the talent would be ready by providing a $10 million grant to Edgecombe Community College to construct and equip a training center. That’s non-trivial money, but it is what is needed to reduce the uncertainty of employers.
And we need all hands on deck for that task. I’m so pleased that we will have the opportunity to work with my friend Peter Hans, the new head of the NC Community College system. He and I have spoken about the need to build on the success we have enjoyed and be transformative. President Hans has a substantial task ahead of him. There are a number of community college presidencies open, and that talent needs to be replaced. Deborah Lamm, the longtime president of Edgecombe Community College and a valued partner, marks one of the departures, just as Triangle Tyre is getting underway.
Leadership is a prerequisite for good grantsmaking. And we’re not staying still on this, as a lot of those miles on those aforementioned tires was spent visiting Golden LEAF scholars all across rural North Carolina. Our scholars not only receive financial aid, but leadership development from the globally-recognized Center for Creative Leadership and paid internships as well. The next generation of rural leaders needs nurturing to emerge.
Look more for our future work on building the North Carolina talent pipeline. I’m personally working for collaborative efforts through the MyFutureNC Commission and NC Early Childhood Foundation and engaging other partners – public and private – to help our people be as prepared and passionate as possible for the jobs yet to come.