A long-standing working relationship between the Effingham Industrial Development Authority and the Effingham College and Career Academy is now more than a handshake agreement.
The IDA approved a memorandum of understanding with the ECCA for five years, with the IDA contributing $12,000 toward a digital sign for the school and the ECCA agreeing to perform a variety of functions to support the IDA’s mission.
“I can’t have enough words of appreciation for the collaboration we have with the IDA and the support we have from the IDA, not just here but at the state level,” said ECCA CEO Barbara Prosser.
Under the terms of the agreement, the ECCA sign will display IDA business and industry events, welcome messages for its visitors and other announcements on the digital sign. The IDA also will receive top industry sponsorship recognition at ECCA education and industry advisory events. The IDA also may use, on request, the ECCA’s meeting facilities and the academy’s CEO and staff can serve as liaisons during prospect visits, dinners and other events.
“I think this is an asset for our county,” IDA member Glenn Weston said of the ECCA, “and it’s something we need to be involved with.”
The career academy has been a frequent stop for the IDA as it brings in prospects.
“They have been very valuable partners to us in the past,” said IDA CEO John Henry. “We love to show the facilities off and bring prospects through.”
Added IDA Chairman Chap Bennett: “I think this, over time, can become as good an asset as piece of property we have at the right location. I really do.”
Prosser said the school needs a sign, which the school board has agreed to build, and it’s something they have been thinking about.
“We would like that sign to focus on the fact we are a workforce development school,” she said. “We would like to have the IDA logo on our set of doors.”
The ECCA is set to expand next year, when the science, engineering, technology and math, called STEM, addition opens. It will have 16 classrooms and labs, doubling the academy’s size from its current 44,000 square feet. Prosser said they are waiting on the final design from the architect.
“I’m also proud and a little scared to tell you we are almost at capacity with students,” she said. “We did not expect that to happen for another two years.”
Prosser also boasted that the ECCA is offering courses and instruction that are attractive to employers.
“We want them prepared to serve industry and have economic prosperity when they get out of high school,” she said. “These programs reflect the industries in our area that are high-tech and high-growth.”
The ECCA offered Web design for the first time last year, and what students learned surprised them, Prosser pointed out.
“They think web design is just using the Internet. But they’re learning code,” she said. “We don’t tell them their learning code. We tell them they are learning how to create a Web page. They use quite a bit of math, and we don’t mention math.”
Prosser said there is a tremendous shortage of information technology professionals in the area.
“Even our school district has three openings available,” she said. “In Georgia, there are 7,000 openings in IT. It is already one of those significant gaps.”
The STEM addition also will house an aircraft assembly technician program. The instruction will start in the automotive lab, and the school board has allotted $40,000 to buy equipment for the program.
“Many of our industries here support the aerospace industry,” Prosser said. “This type of assembly program, and we looked at this carefully, can be applied to any manufacturing environment.”
Automotive repair and logistics have grown as programs, Prosser added, and Effingham County led the effort in the state to have logistics instruction. ECCA students have attended the BMW Institute and another went to the GM Institute.
The trucking industry is looking for drivers and also is short in the number of maintenance and repair technicians, according to Prosser.
“We have employers wanting to hire them as quickly as they are trained,” she said.
The newly-adopted Senate Bill 2, the Move On When Ready Act, is expected to have a profound impact, Prosser told IDA members. The new law allows high school students to enroll in college if they gain acceptance through the entrance exams.
“You could have a ninth grader taking college classes, earning college credits and graduating with a high school diploma and a college degree,” she said. “They can earn technical certifications while they’re in high school. We have had several to do that. Businesses are grabbing them up.”
Industrial prospects who have visited from Europe and Asia have been impressed with the ECCA and what students can do there, IDA CEO John Henry said.
“They don’t offer these types of programs in public schools over there,” he said.