Desperately in need of some good economic news, Robeson County got an extra large helping of it on Monday.
Robeson Community College was among 32 successful applicants that were selected from 200 colleges and college partnerships in the country seeking a slice of $500 million in federal grant money for job training, but it gets better. Of the nine sister community colleges selected in North Carolina to share in $18.8 million, RCC got the largest bite, between $3.5 million and $4 million, and was designated as the lead institution for the state, meaning it will administer the program for North Carolina.
Congratulations is due to RCC officials, and at least three need to be named: Lynda Parlett, Lisa O. Hunt and Valissa Lowery, who all work in development and grants at the college, put together the winning application. Unfortunately, they were helped by the sorry local economy — unemployment is hovering around 13 percent — and the high number of local people who have lost manufacturing jobs that have been exported to other countries.
According to Charles Chrestman, president of RCC, the nine community colleges — from all corners of this state and points in between — have partnered to create the N.C. Advanced Manufacturing Alliance, which will include industries, workforce investment boards, schools, nonprofits and Apple Inc. The alliance will target 2,300 displaced workers and assess their needs, retrain them, and certify them for new employment. The students will be paired with employers for internships, with the promise of a job once they are certified.
And the kids will love this: Because of the affiliation with Apple Inc., all of the students will receive a free iPad.
While there is no hard number of Robesonians likely to be put back to work by this initiative, divide 2,300 by 10 and then factor in this size of Robeson County and the local need, and a safe bet would be several hundred.
Robeson Community College will also benefit with money for improvements to labs, and $1.4 million will be used to put the course content on iTunes, where it will be available to people across the country.
What’s above is the best part, but the story would receive an incomplete if the following were not included: The idea to form the alliance and to seek the grant money was hatched right here in Robeson County, which explains RCC’s lead role in the administration of the $18.8 million grant. With the 28-page application and supporting documents in hand, Chrestman and others made the drive to Washington, D.C., where they earned an audience with several key lawmakers, including Sen. Kay Hagan and Rep. Mike McIntyre. The lawmakers were obviously impressed.
It was a determined and well-orchestrated effort, one that will put many local people back to work, enhancing their lives and those of loved ones.