LUMBERTON — Forming partnerships to create an environment that encourages businesses and industries to locate and do business in Lumberton and other Robeson County communities was stressed Tuesday during a public forum that featured three local leaders in education.
“If we build a partnership, we have to let everyone know what it is and that we are committed to i,t” said Kimberly Gold, who began as president of Robeson Community College at the beginning of this year. “We have to set a vision and goal. No one can accomplish anything just themselves. We have to look at what others are doing and build on that.”
During the forum sponsored Tuesday by Rediscover Downtown Lumberton, Gold, Robin Cummings, the chancellor of The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and Herman Locklear, the career and technical education director for the Public Schools of Robeson County, all stressed the need to teach modern technology skills to county students from a young age through adulthood as a means of preparing them for today’s jobs. Failure to do so will steer businesses and industries to other areas where trained workforces are available, they said.
Locklear represented the public schools, filling in as the system is currently without a superintendent.
The moderator for the event, attended by about 100 people, was Richard Monroe, president of Rediscover Downtown Lumberton and a longtime educator.
Cummings said Robeson County is “so special” in what it can already offer to businesses, industries and professional people looking for a home. He cited a public school system, community college and university committed to training the local workforce in skills needed by businesses and industries, a “top notch hospital” associated with Duke University, and interstate highways.
“How many counties wouldn’t pay to have all that?” Cummings said.
Gold, Cummings and Locklear ticked off their institution’s individual programs and the partnerships they have with each other and the business community to provide students with avenues to obtain the technical training they need to immediately enter the workforce after high school or to further their education at a college or university. They emphasized the importance of student internships and hands-on training with businesses and industries.
“I always tell my students at the technical career center to choose a career and not a job,” Locklear said. “A career is something they enjoy to do.”
The perception in Robeson County that those students pursuing technical careers are doing so because they do not have the ability to further their education in academic disciplines is wrong, Locklear said. He said the county would greatly benefit from a technology high school being built to provide students with training for jobs they can pursue immediately after high school.
Alan Fowlkes, executive director of COMtech, strongly supported the need for a technology high school.
“The public schools already own 35 acres at COMtech,” he said. “Seventy-two percent of our graduates stay in Robeson County. We’ve got to get our kids to know the opportunities they have here at home.”
Monroe said after the meeting that he was “excited” about the commitment there appears to exist among educational institutions and the community to partner in efforts that will make Lumberton and Robeson County great places in which to live and work.
“There was a lot of great discussion and the audience seemed to be very receptive,” he said. “There is a lot of commitment, energy and ideas on how to reinvest in the downtown. We are going to build on that.”
Lumberton Mayor Bruce Davis agreed.
“There are tremendous opportunities for the educational institutions to join together with the community and create the opportunities our young people need to achieve,” he said.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.