Wilkes County is on a Mission to Erase the Rural Urban Divide in Attracting Hi-Tech Job Opportunities

North Carolina’s economy is growing and changing. Today, more than 65% of jobs in the state require a postsecondary degree or high-quality certification, reflecting the demand for skilled technical workers. Yet, less than half of North Carolinians ages 24-44 currently hold these degrees or certifications.

These statistics are behind myFutureNC’s efforts to ensure 2 million North Carolina adults hold a postsecondary degree or high-quality certificate by 2030. In this article, we look at how one community is helping close this gap and create opportunities for its neighbors and region.

Leaders in Northwest North Carolina want to provide economic opportunities to workers and its downtowns. To achieve this goal, they are working together to align educational opportunities for its neighbors with the demand for skilled, technical employees. The strategy is to provide accessible training and education that helps residents earn a living wage, attract high-tech jobs from across the state and revitalize local towns.

Leaders announced their vision at the launch of the nonprofit NC Tech Paths. The organization is focused on establishing Northwest North Carolina as a national leader in fostering rural inclusion in the digital economy through workforce development, employer partnerships, and entrepreneurial support. This approach will ensure residents can live, train and remain in their hometowns.

“NC Tech Paths will add high-quality jobs and expand opportunities for young people to earn a living wage,” said Lee Herring, president, Herring Family Foundation, which led the launch of the nonprofit. “We will truly move the needle of progress in a community like ours.”

To bridge the rural-urban divide that often puts workers in rural areas at a disadvantage, NC Tech Paths will build local prosperity by focusing on four key areas:

“Every company is a tech company,” pointed out Craig DeLucia, NC Tech Paths’ president and the Herring Family Foundation COO. “Every tech company needs tech talent. Our talent can compete with anyone when we give them the opportunities and resources to succeed.”

Providing Education and Training to Northwest North Carolina Residents

Leaders in Northwest North Carolina believe they are in a unique position to provide the talent pipeline companies are looking for thanks to its partnership with Wilkes Community College and rural cooperatives that provide gig-capable fiberoptic internet access to almost 90% of residences.

For NC Tech Paths, the employment pipeline begins in K-12 classes as advisers provide students with information and training on career opportunities. These discussions will be critical to encouraging students to pursue a postsecondary education.

As a NC Tech Paths partner, WCC is working closely with local leaders and businesses to create bootcamp certificate programs, AA programs and pathways to four-year degrees at nearby Appalachian State University.

“This new initiative will be a game changer for our region,” said Dr. Jeff Cox, WCC president.

Over the past four years, Cox pointed out, WCC has focused on providing economic mobility for the people who live in the region, which includes building an education and support system that creates an employment pipeline.

In addition to AA and bachelor’s degrees, NC Tech Paths is partnering with Per Scholas and WCC to create 12 to 18 bootcamps that provide future employees skills to get their foot in the door at technology companies, something North Carolina employers are embracing.

“We are engaging with learners,” said Domenic Malara, senior manager of talent acquisition and university at Winston-Salem-based Inmar Intelligence. “We are willing and enthusiastic about partnerships with Wilkes Community College. Beyond bootcamp graduates, we are looking forward to working with graduates of WCC and Appalachian State.”

Watch the launch of NC Tech Paths.

Visit NC Tech Paths to learn more about workforce development and employment opportunities in Northwest North Carolina.