June 19, 2008

Education Key to Future Work Force

By Darrell Hughes, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Jun. 19--Roughly 70 Horry County business, government and education leaders listened on Wednesday to a work force expert who urged the group to improve the region's education system as a way to diversify the tourism-based economy.

Edward Gordon, president of the Imperial Consulting Corp., said relying solely on the tourism industry could cramp the local economy. The meeting took place at Coastal Carolina University's Wall College of Business.

Imperial Consulting is an Illinois-based consulting firm that provides analysis and coaching for groups on work force, economic development and labor issues.

Work force and economic development issues go hand-in-hand and should be addressed if a particular region wants to enhance or expand its labor market, Gordon said, adding that education is a key factor.

The speech comes at a time when local business leaders are working to design and implement programs that could produce a more educated work force, aimed toward increasing the number of workers in technology-based careers.

Gordon said too many people have low skills, but desire high-paying jobs. There needs to be an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics related careers, he said.

"It is impossible for South Carolina to have economic development without an appropriate education critical mass for ... the 21st century," he said.

About 60 percent of S.C. students graduate with a high school diploma, according to the state's education department. Gordon said poor value on education is a crisis throughout America.

Problem is, more companies are becoming technologically enhanced, requiring workers to have skills beyond a high school education.

There will need to be a cultural change, with more South Carolinians valuing education, Gordon said.

Horry County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland described Gordon's message as "surprising" and "scary."

"I don't tend to focus a lot on education because I'm focusing on other things with government," she said. Gilland said the best way to address work force development and education woes is through private and public cooperation.

The Horry Industrial Alliance began talks about two months ago with the Waccamaw Regional Educational Center on how to tailor the region's work force.

Gordon's presentation touched "very nicely on what we're trying to do at a grass-roots level with our existing industry," said Hugh Owens, president and chief executive of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp.

"Our industry recognizes a critical need to address these issues, so it's very high on the agenda of the industrial alliance."

Contact DARRELL HUGHES at 626-0364 or [email protected]


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