New plan unveiled to spur local economy

By Greta Lint

CONOVER — When a high school graduate leaves town, he/she usually doesn’t return. He/she seeks a job and raises his family elsewhere. The student’s departure leaves a void which affects the local economy.
In his wake, he leaves unfilled jobs and creates a lack of future leaders, local car sales, home purchases and the list goes on.
During the City of Conover Board meeting last week, CVCC President Dr. Garrett Hinshaw gave a presentation about a new initiative designed to spur local economic growth.
He/she is sharing the vision with local governments and community stakeholders, seeking their assistance to help turn the local economy around.
K-64 is a local five-year pilot program to create a new culture in Catawba County to give a reason for high school students to continue living in their home town and build their community.
Conover City Manager explained that K-64 is a “new method created by CVCC to streamline the process to get people into the local workforce.”
With 3,000-5,000 local jobs which need to be filled, the K-64 program is designed to foster a compelling reason for families to relocate to an area which will have a world-class educational system and good jobs.
It is a lifelong learning culture which begins in kindergarten and continues to retirement. For example, kindergartners will start the process by learning how to interact with people of all ages, as in an on-the-job setting. They will learn self-esteem, creating a can-do approach to life.
At an early age, students will be exposed to career opportunities, which will help them as they future classes.
The notion of focusing students upon a fulfilled life, with a good career, extends to STEM programs, such as the one at Newton-Conover Middle School, in Conover. The school creates a hands-on learning environment through math and science classes. In junior and high schools, the K-64 initiative calls for students to develop apprenticeship programs with local companies.
Once a strong relationship is built between the student and the company, the student will feel encouraged to return after attending college. A job will be waiting for him with a possible signing bonus from the employer who originally worked with the student when he was in junior and high school.
The signing bonus would have the pomp and circumstance of that seen in the sports world.
The entire project is a partnership between local educators, governmental bodies and employers.
Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corporation, said the basis for K-64 is to drive the economy.
“We’re about 20,000 people short in our population,” he said. “The people just don’t live here to fill the jobs.”
He added, “It’s very important that we not only retain current workers, but that we recruit others. If someone is looking to relocate to this part of the state, we want them to choose Catawba County. We want a parent to see a world-class educational system which is modularized with life-long learning in the workforce environment as well as for daily life.”
Conover Mayor Lee Moritz likes what he sees in K-64.
“It’s very simple to me. I serve to create a place where our children desire and are able to find opportunity. I’m very encouraged by K-64 and highly respect the leadership of CVCC President Dr. Garrett Hinshaw championing this initiative. K-64 is going to take stakeholder collaboration and thinking beyond traditional education practices. The K-64 initiative has essential roles for government officials, school officials, business leaders and parents if we want to win this workforce crisis.”
“Conover has an aging population,” Duncan said. “K-64 engages a younger workforce so that when they graduate, they are fully functional on the job. A goal of K-64 is that we will expand our population base with good jobs, which will sustain and help our city to continue growing.”
Future areas of job growth in the Catawba Valley area are manufacturing, health services, transportation (logistics and truck driving), retail and the service industry.