Distinguished Panel Discusses Triad's Economic, Educational Outlook in School of Communications
A notable panel of Triad business and education leaders gathered in Elon’s School of Communications to discuss economic and academic issues affecting central North Carolina during the third Triad CEO Forum, which aired live Wednesday night on UNC-TV. Elon President Leo Lambert and Elon trustee Louis DeJoy partook in the roundtable conversation.
The guests examined the transformation of the Triad from an economy centered on textile mills and the furnishing industry to a burgeoning “aerotropolis” and technological haven. An aerotroplis, as defined by Kelly King, BB&T’s chief operating officer, is a city with a booming international airport and formidable transportation system.
King said the Triad’s current growth mirrors similarly the nascence of the Research Triangle Park in the Raleigh-Durham area 50 years ago.
“(The Triad) has the foundation for an extraordinarily bright future,” said. “We have a seed that can become a huge oak tree.”
The entire panel, which also included Kay Hagan (D), a North Carolina state senator who has represented Guilford County since 1998, and Stanley Battle, the newly appointed chancellor of North Carolina A&T University, agreed that the singular way to promote and sustain economic expansion is through rigorous academic training.
“We have to really build on our universities if North Carolina is going to be competitive in the world,” Hagan said. “We have to get these kids ready to learn in North Carolina.”
Hagan touted the state’s community college system, which she said provides students the proper technical skills needed to enter and advance in the state’s work force. Battle mentioned the construction of Gateway Research Park, a collaborative research center being designed by A&T and UNCG. Battle said the initiative should generate $50 million in 15 years.
Lambert lauded the ELON Academy, a program offered to high school students in the Alamance-Burlington school system who may not be considering attending college for primarily financial reasons.
“We must develop children early on,” Battle said. “The assumption is that a child prepares himself in concert with the parents. Well, that village is getting larger and larger.”
“We have,” Lambert said, “a 68.1 percent (high school) graduation rate in North Carolina. That’s not good enough. We can’t leave 32 percent of our students behind. North Carolina can do better than that. We 're proud at Elon this summer that we've launched the ELON Academy. We need a lot more programs like that in North Carolina.”
DeJoy, who in addition to being an Elon trustee is also the New Breed CEO and chairman of the board, warned against producing a one-dimensional student, though. Graduates must prepare themselves, he said, to work in a global economy. He said potential employees must have “good foundational training,” but they, too, should be technologically well-versed and business savvy.
Lambert concurred, noting that “vanilla-flavored” business majors were not appealing to local employers.
“We’re beginning to think about ways we're going to need to blur the lines between traditional fields and disciplines,” Lambert said. “Our business majors (must be) more literate in technical fields, in scientific fields.”
The panelists cautioned that there are no easy fixes, and transformative change doesn’t occur in an instant. Educating and producing dynamic and worldly students who can contribute immediately to North Carolina’s workforce, however, is the first step.
“We need students in K-12 with a desire to learn. We have to look for people that are prepared for a global economy, that think bigger than Greensboro,” DeJoy said. “I would also say don’t rush. It’s going to take time.”
(For more information about the panelists, CLICK HERE.)
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