SouthernCarolina gala toasts industry and education connections

What was seemed like a gala gathering at the USC-Salkehatchie campus May 12 had a serious message for attendees to digest with their buffet - the need for an educated workforce.

The event was the annual regional celebration of SouthernCarolina Alliance, a regional development collaboration among Barnwell, Allendale, Bamberg and Hampton counties. Attendees were a mix of politicians, county administrators, economic development leaders, industry representatives and educators who were treated to a gourmet meal of heavy hors d'oeuvres. But the message of the evening was much more than piecemeal for South Carolina to survive, education is necessary.

"How go the towns and counties so goes South Carolina," said Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina and the main speaker for the evening.

"The economy will turn around. Now is the time to really get ahead," he said. "Now is the time to invest in infrastructure and an educated workforce."

"We can work on the environment of the 5 R's - research, residential, restaurants, retail and recreation," he said.

Pastides called USC-Salkehatchie in Allendale "one of the brightest stars in the constellation of the University of South Carolina's satellite campuses" and urged the need to support them.

"There's no way that USC-Salkehatchie can close," he said. "People are not going to just go somewhere else. To do so would be closing opportunity." Even if the campus was closed (which has been proposed repeatedly by Gov. Mark Sanford), the savings would only represent a fraction of the entire USC budget, he said.

Pastides noted that only 23 percent of South Carolina adults have a higher education degree. "We have got to do something about it. And you can't do it by closing this campus."

He urged those present to "forge ahead for public-private partnerships to bring the ‘knowledgy' industry to South Carolina."

"South Carolina can be the new energy economy," he said, with the focus locally on the hydrogen and nuclear industries.

"There is a link between education and economic development," said Pastides. "There is no greater sign than bringing people to a higher education."

With local access to Salkehatchie, Pastides said residents have access, by extension, to all seven of the university's campuses.

"Consider the university to be an asset to all of you," he said, and encouraged everyone to be advocates for Salkehatchie.

Another speaker echoed Pastides' sentiments.

Miles Loadholt of Barnwell, who is also chairman of the board of trustees for USC, said, "This university is a major economic driving force for this state." Loadholt led the search committee to find Pastides, who was named USC's president July 11, 2008.

Danny Black, president of SouthernCarolina Alliance, called 2008 "a challenging year" which saw several plant closings in the area.

"What can we do to counter this national trend? What we can do is to have the ability to change workforce development. We must have a highly trained workforce to be successful," he said.

He said workforce development partnerships among the university, technical colleges, workforce agencies, industry allies and area governments are creating programs to provide local people with the skills needed to attract and keep viable industries.

He said those efforts are being coupled with aggressive marketing worldwide to bring jobs to the four-county area.

Dr. Ann Carmichael, Dean of USC-Salkehatchie, spoke to both the national job trend as well as Salk's survival. "Adversity does create unity," she said. "I think we will not only survive, but we will also thrive."