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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 8/17/2018
(By Lisa Garrett)
WESTMINSTER --- A standing-room-only crowd broke into applause as representatives from Oconee County’s government and school district and Tri-County Technical College cut the ceremonial ribbon and dedicated the long-awaited Oconee Campus in Westminster.
“This is a big day -- to open a full-fledged campus in Oconee County,” said Tri-County Technical College President Ronnie L. Booth. “This is for everyone. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work.”
The Oconee Campus is the first building to be constructed on the site of the Oconee County Workforce Development Center, located at 552 Education Way in Westminster. The Oconee Industry and Technology Park will co-locate the Oconee Campus, a new Career Center servicing the Oconee County School District, and industry. The result will be a unique center for technical education, work-based learning and economic development. The project is a partnership between the College, the School District of Oconee County and Oconee County.
“It’s about people working together, doing what’s best for Oconee County and the community,” said Dr. Michael Thorsland, superintendent for the School District of Oconee County. “In a few short days, we’ll have high school students walking these floors, taking college-level courses and expanding their horizons and educational careers.”
“We’ve got more high school students from Oconee County enrolled at Tri-County than ever before,” Thorsland said. “It has already paid off. We are proud to be a partner.”
Credit program offerings include the first two semesters of Industrial Electronics Technology, Mechatronics, Technical Operator 1 and 2 (Certificate), CNC Programming and Operations (Degree), Manufacturing Management and Leadership (Degree), Business Administration (first year - core curriculum) and University Studies (Certificate). Corporate and Community Education offerings include South Carolina Manufacturing Certification, CNC Machine Operator Training, Mechatronics and other career certificates such as ISO 9001, Lean Manufacturing and OSHA.
In addition, high school students can enroll in technical career pathways classes as well as dual enrollment (university transfer) courses.
“There are many benefits to co-locating with the Career Center and industry,” said Dr. Booth. “It supports our highly successful Technical Career Pathways program that enables students to earn a Tri-County credential by the time they graduate from high school. The program gives them a head start on college, allowing them to complete an associate degree within one year of full-time study after high school. That’s good for the students and good for industry,” he said.
Co-location also makes good economic sense, said Dr. Booth. “Rather than purchase similar equipment at two locations, we can share some of the same equipment and labs with the Career Center when they join us in 2020. Also, industry will have the opportunity to groom future employees by providing internships and co-ops on site for high school and college students.”
"The Career Center is planned for the site in 2020. We can't find an example of these three entities in the same location anywhere," said Dr. Brian Swords, director of Tri-County’s community campuses. "This is a new model which has opened the doors for discussions on partnerships, operational pieces and pathways," he said.
Oconee Alliance Chair Chris Tedesco called it “a model for all communities across South Carolina.”
Oconee County Council Chair Edda Cammick said she receives calls from employers looking for qualified welders and machinists. “Graduates are needed today. Jobs await you, students,” she said.
Program offerings were specifically selected based on jobs that are available in Oconee County, said Mandy Elmore, dean of the College’s Engineering and Industrial Technology Division. “Our curriculum offerings are industry driven. We engaged with members of our advisory committee as well as our community partners in economic development and manufacturing in the area. It was a collaborative team.”
State Rep. Bill Sandifer and Rep. Bill Whitmire said the Oconee Campus will meet business and industry’s need for a trained workforce.
“This campus provides opportunities for additional business and industry to locate here in Oconee County,” added Senator Thomas Alexander.
“We’ve waited a long time for this day,” Tri-County Commission Chairman John Powell said. “It’s taken all of us working together to make it a reality. As an alumnus and a Commissioner, I couldn’t be prouder.”
Dr. Booth also acknowledged the generosity of donors who provided financial support for the project. In 2017 Blue Ridge Electric Co-op made the first donation of $100,000 to name the Robotics Laboratory.
Duke Energy recently donated $100,000 to provide equipment funding for multiple industrial labs.
This month Sandvik Coromant donated $75,000 to provide CNC tooling equipment; BorgWarner donated $50,000 to name the Hand Tools Laboratory; and Schneider Electrics donated $50,000 to name the Motor Controls Laboratory and provided equipment.