Move ahead or fall further behind

ALBANY HERALD EDITORAL: A collaboration of educational institutions in Dougherty County is critical to the communitys future

If anyone wonders how important the collaboration that the presidents of Albany State University, Darton State College and Albany Technical College and the superintendent of the Dougherty County School System are working on really is, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle may have placed it in perspective last week.

Meeting with The Albany Herald Editorial Board before attending an event at Merry Acres to recognize Bo Henry and Stewart Campbell’s Stewbo’s Group for its innovation in business, Cagle covered a wide range of topics before we made an observation and posed a question.

While there have been numerous announcements in recent months of businesses moving into the state and creating jobs, none of them have been in our area. Noting that our region has access to large quantities of water, available land and a good transportation system, we asked what the area’s biggest need is.

Cagle focused on two things that business leaders want.

“I think it does boil down to, one, leadership,” Cagle said. “Leadership is critical to economic development.” Company officials looking to locate in an area has to have confidence in local leadership that it will do what it promises.

Second, he said, businesses “want to see a stable environment.” They want a quality health care system, a quality educational system — both secondary and post-secondary schools, adequate water supplies, good transportation and other infrastructure.

“The truth is … you have an abundance of land, great transportation, an abundant water supply,” Cagle remarked. “If I had to say what does Albany and Dougherty County need to do … in my opinion, you need to focus on work force development. And one of the best ways to do that is with a college and careers academy. Businesses only succeed if they’ve got good workers.”

Dougherty County, of course, lost a chance a couple of years ago to get started with a career academy when the Dougherty County School Board rejected the plan at the behest of the academy’s shortsighted opponents.

And good workers these days need more than a high school diploma. High school dropouts, meanwhile, are facing even more daunting — we would say nearly insurmountable — odds. The world, as we have noted in previous editorials, is changing and more complex. When a high school diploma once gave a job applicant a reasonable shot at a manufacturing job and eventually a nice pension, that’s not the case these days.

“Manufacturing is very different today than it was 20 years, even 10 years ago,” Cagle said. “You’ve got to have that highly-skilled set.”

Developing an educational system that breaks down the “silos” that separate colleges and universities, technical colleges and secondary school systems from each other is key, Cagle said, noting that is what career and college academies are designed to do.

“Every university or college in this community has to understand that they’re economic drivers,” Cagle said. “They have a responsibility and role to do that.”

A community must come to define its educational success “by giving students the skill sets that are employable,” he said, adding that in the near future a large percentage of the nation’s work force will need at least some technical college training.

That is the reason this collaboration of Albany State, Darton State, Albany Tech and the Dougherty School System — the first of its kind in our community — is critical. The work that Presidents Art Dunning, Paul Jones and Anthony Parker and Superintendent David Mosely are doing needs all of our support. If this group can come up with a blueprint for keeping students in school, improving the graduation rate and getting them on a career track, and if local leadership will take that blueprint and run with it, then there’s a chance that the economy of metro Albany and the region, which lag the rest of the state, can move forward.

We have to move ahead or we will continue to fall behind.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board