In his State of the Union address a few weeks ago, President Obama issued a challenge to train 2 million Americans and place them in middle-class careers through community college-employer partnerships. I saw first-hand what can be accomplished if we meet the President’s challenge during a trip to Asheville, North Carolina last week.
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College’s Small Business Incubator and Technology Commercialization Center is part of the North Carolina consortium that received funding through the department’s TAA Community College Career Training Initiative last fall. On Thursday, I met some of their aspiring entrepreneurs who are developing ideas ranging from three dimensional advertising technology to “phase change materials” that modulate the temperature of shipped products as they travel around the world. A-B Tech is helping these small business owners to develop their ideas and bring them to market by providing office space, confidential counseling, as well as legal, accounting, and other advice. “Not every business that comes out of the incubator succeeds,” said A-B Tech President Dr. Hank Dunn, “but we let them focus on the most important thing – their product and their business model – without worrying about all the peripherals.”
Later in the day, I saw another excellent example of the great things that can happen when community colleges partner with innovative entrepreneurs and other businesses in their communities. I toured AvL Technologies, a cutting edge satellite communications company, and the very first client of A-B Tech’s small business incubator. AvL is a U.S. government contractor that provides state-of-the-art satellite technology to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fourteen years ago, AvL CEO Jim Oliver started his company in a basement classroom at A-B Tech. With years of experience in the satellite industry, and the desire to build a new business, Oliver has built AvL into an operation headquartered in a huge Asheville facility with 176 employees and offices in China and the United Kingdom. AvL’s production work supports an additional 100 supply jobs in the Asheville community.
The employees at AvL work with some of the most advanced technology in the world, making it critical that workers are ready to contribute on day one. So, AvL has worked with A-B Tech’s Economic and Workforce Development administration to create curriculum and training programs aligned with the skills the company needs. In return, students learn what is necessary to be hired right after they graduate. Their work, if I may steal from my children’s vocabulary, is “just plain cool.”
AvL invented and builds small satellite dishes that weigh only 20 pounds and can be carried in a soldier’s backpack. These briefcase-sized satellite dishes can provide the same amount of Internet connection power and speed in the mountain regions of Afghanistan as the Labor Department gets from its Internet service provider in Washington, D.C. AvL also builds satellites that sit atop huge military vehicles and provide enough Internet connectivity for an entire city. “It’s been great to work with A-B Tech,” said Oliver, “our partnership with the college has helped our company grow and succeed.”
The partnership between AvL Technologies and A-B Tech has created a virtuous cycle in the Asheville community. A local community college provided the support for an entrepreneur to bring his idea to market. The business owner keeps his advanced manufacturing local, hiring workers from the area to create products shipped all over the world. As the business grows, it partners with the institution to develop training programs so that North Carolinians will have good quality middle-class careers.
That’s what President Obama was talking about in his Blueprint for an America Built to Last. It’s also the ingenuity the President and Secretary Solis are looking for through the new $8 billion Community College to Career Fund they announced today in Virginia. And as a partner with A-B Tech, The Labor Department is proud to play a part.