We need to start thinking about tomorrow’s jobs today

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Rep. John Holsclaw in his weekly legislative roundup (in today’s paper) touts new jobs that have or are coming to Tennessee. All are in other parts of the state.
He also touts the low unemployment rate in the state.
But what Carter Countians want to hear about are the jobs coming to this area, and what is being done to improve the economy of Elizabethton and Carter County.
Latest figures show that the median household income in Carter County is $34,625 with 22,819 employees on payrolls. The poverty rate is 24.5 percent. The most common employment sectors for those living in Carter County are health care and social assistance, which employs over 4,000 persons. Retail trade employs another 3,000 persons and manufacturing, only 3,000 persons.
The local median household income is among the lowest in the area, with only Johnson County’s being lower.
Locally, we are seeing an increased interest in promoting tourism as a means of improving the economy and bringing new dollars to the county and city. We are seeing an interest on the part of Gov. Bill Lee to help impoverished areas in the state, where there are few jobs, low income, and skilled workers. Last November, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology at Elizabethton was awarded a $1 million grant to complete two major new initiatives at the school. The grant is designed to prioritize learning opportunities in rural counties such as Carter County and enhance career and technical education.
Some of the money is going to STEM labs built by TCAT-Elizabethton inside area high schools, one of the first being built at Elizabethton High School. The lab will enable local high school students to take TCAT-Elizabethton courses in their own school and receive dual credit. Students coming from a school with such a lab would only have to take nine more modules before they graduate and move on to a job. But, what job?
It has been a while since we have heard of a manufacturing job locating in Elizabethton and Carter County, which means local graduates would have to find a job outside the county. It also means they may have to relocate elsewhere, resulting in lost taxes and revenue.
Jobs and wages in small-town America have played catch-up with larger cities such as Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and even Johnson City and Kingsport. Carter County is getting old. The median age is in the 40s, and as mentioned previously, its families have lower incomes. In addition to low incomes, a lack of skilled workers, it is plagued with problems such as opioid abuse and crime to support it such as shoplifting.
Economic changes of the last several decades have undercut many rural workers. And, one thing that seems clear is that no experts or policymakers or people in communities, such as Carter County, seem to know quite how to pick us up and move us forward.
We do know and realize that factory jobs can no longer keep small-town America afloat. And, the high tech industries powering the economy today don’t have much need for the cheap labor that contributed to our industrial past. They mostly need high educated workers. That is why it is important that our schools change, that they become more high tech. Today’s students can no longer rely on yesterday’s education to get them the jobs of tomorrow.
We need some fast forward thinking locally and at the state level to get us where we need to be when tomorrow comes and to have the jobs that are going to be needed to keep us growing as a community.
This means today’s leaders at the local and state level need to be better educated and better prepared than what they are.

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