Greenville Tech President, Dr. Keith Miller, Speaks to Congressional Panel

AUGUST 16, 2011

Greenville Tech President, Dr. Keith Miller, Speaks to Congressional Panel

Trey Gowdy Spotlights District During Hearings On Higher Ed, Jobs

Educators, business leaders and public officials talk about the challenges facing the local economy

By Carolyn Smith
August 16, 2011

GREENVILLE -- Putting people back to work in South Carolina is priority No. 1 for one of the Upstate's newest congressman.

That's why Republican Trey Gowdy said he worked tirelessly to bring the members of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce to the 4th Congressional District on Tuesday to talk about the role higher education plays in job growth and development.

Gowdy said he wanted to "show the whole world that higher education and job creation go together."

The setting for the committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon was the 250-acre campus of Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research, where higher education and industry have partnered.

"Unemployment is about 9.2 nationwide. It's higher in certain parts of South Carolina and there is no better model for the inner-connectivity of higher education and job creation than CU-ICAR," Gowdy said. "I will never miss an opportunity to highlight the attributes and the assets of the Upstate of South Carolina."

Gowdy, along with fellow South Carolinian Republican Rep. Joe Wilson, who represents the 2nd District and who was filling in for Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, said in order to build a stronger economy in the state, it had to start with providing a quality education.

This hearing explored the ways in which business and higher education already are working together but also created a conversation of wish list items business leaders, educators and public officials felt would help them to do a better job.

The first panel spoke to the local economy and job opportunities, while the second, made up of educators, spoke about how they would prepare graduates for jobs in the area.

Greenville Mayor Knox White was first up to testify before the committee. He spoke of Greenville's history in textiles and how both the city and county had worked together to create more diverse industry in the area and to spur economic growth.

They went after big businesses like GE, Michelin and BMW.

And along the way, Greenville found partnerships in both the business community and in higher education, which would in turn create more growth and more jobs.

"We sit on a campus today that has generated more than $250 million in investment," White said. "Here, more than 100 graduate students from around the world, learn about automotive technology and how to implement tomorrow's ideas today. ...CU-ICAR was founded on the idea that successful economic development and world- class academics can be enhanced by building relationships."

Werner Eikenbusch, section manager for associate development and training at BMW Manufacturing Co., said it was important for him to be a part of this hearing.

"It gives legislators an opportunity to hear it from the employer," Eikenbusch said. "Everybody plays a part in making sure that all the different pieces work well together. Flexibility for curriculum in higher education, money for research, those are things that have to be there for us to do business."

BMW's relationship was one that helped to change the way that higher education looked at partnerships with businesses, according to James Barker, president of Clemson University.

Barker gave a little history about the the current CU-ICAR location, which once was a wooded area, and the conversation began about what BMW and other automakers needed to remain competitive in the 21st century. Barker said the conversation wasn't about the research they wanted the University to do, it was more about the engineers that they needed to hire.

"A new kind of engineer who understood how all of the various mechanical, electrical and computer systems in a modern automobile work together," Barker said.
"Clemson faculty responded and created an entirely new curriculum focused on systems integration and they continue to meet annually with industry advisors to ensure that the program remains relevant."

But not all the talk was about the automotive field.

Committee members also heard thoughts from witnesses on how to change the system.

Gowdy asked Laura Harmon, project director for Greenville Works, how to improve the unemployment system.

"There are too many incentives to stay unemployed rather than to go to work," Harmon said.

When asked by Gowdy if she would support unemployment pay being paid to a company willing to hire and train and unemployed worker, Harmon said she would like to explore that idea more.

But Harmon lobbied for a new way of a new way of leading job training. She said there needs to be a relationship with the business up front, by involving them in setting the curriculum for workforce training it would make for a more successful outcome.

Educators echoed the need for college graduates to see a return on their investment.

"Education needs to be accessible and affordable," said Thomas Moore, chancellor of USC Upstate.

Keith Miller, president of Greenville Technical College, agreed.

"When we have to raise tuition and fees to continue to meet our goals of providing high quality opportunities for learning," Miller said. "We impact the people who can benefit from what we offer."

Amy Hickman, campus president of ECPI College of Technology, said that students do need to see the return on investment, but they also need to be ready for the job market. She said that many of their students come to them from other colleges because they did not feel they had the skills they need to compete for a job.

She said their campus provides a skills-based, employer-driven program that helps students start working straight out of college.

If made king for the day, Gowdy asked Eikenbusch, what could be done to improve the partnership BMW already has in the region with higher education?

"Demonstrate how what they are learning translates in society," Eikenbusch said. "They learn a lot, but they need to see the benefit."

Dr. Brenda Thames, vice president of academic development at Greenville Hospital System, echoed his thoughts. She said there needed to be more opportunities for students to earn credit for real experiences.

Wilson said the takeaway for him from Tuesday's event is reinforcement.

"As you can tell I've spent time here," Wilson said. "I'm reminded of the 10,000 employees at Greenville Hospital system who have helped with that ripple effect of economic development... I've toured ICAR with my son...
"I have a great appreciation for BMW. Michelin has been very important to me I was on the State Board of Development when Jim Edwards recruited Michelin and was trying to get them to come here. To see their North American headquarters here is inspiring to me."

Originally posted August 16, 2011 on the Easley Patch.  Written by Carolyn Smith.