June 28, 2018

The Greeneville Sun: Greene County joins initiative to improve workforce development

By Bianca Marais

Greene County is one of 12 rural counties banding together to overcome low number of college-educated workers by urging residents to obtain secondary education and training.

Five regional councils are made up of 12 counties across Tennessee. These councils are part of a brand new initiative by Complete Tennessee to break barriers to obtaining college degrees or certificates. The initiative’s five councils will ultimately become “College Completion Communities.”

“This will help us identify gaps in secondary education and help connect secondary education in the workforce,” said Matt Garland, president and CEO of the Greene County Partnership. “It will help us align job needs in the workforce in the community and help facilitate the secondary education opportunities.”

The councils will focus on how to improve worker skills in order to attract business to rural communities and boost local economies. The areas involved all have lower-than-average college completion rates compared to the rest of the state, making it difficult to attract jobs.

Kenyetta Lovett, executive director of Complete Tennessee recently told the Tennessean newspaper that “College Completion Communities” are the “centerpiece” of the work at Complete Tennessee due to the fact that more workers with a college education will create more business owners.

The “College Completion Communities” ties into Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative, which aims to increase the number of Tennessee residents with a college education to 55 percent. According to the nonprofit, about 40 percent of the state’s residents have a college certification.

Each council will create a three-year plan to address the issue of education. Council members will include educators, chamber of commerce members, business and community leaders and elected officials.

Garland said the Greene County Partnership will act as a point of contact for Greene County.

Greene, Hamblen and Washington Counties will form the East Tennessee council with a combined 257,000 residents, of which only 28 percent have a college degree.

The East Tennessee council has the most residents, with the council near Chattanooga being second largest at 114,000 residents, of which only 23 percent have degrees. This council will be made up of Bradley and Meigs counties.

Lauderdale and Tipton counties make up the West Tennessee council with 88,000 residents, only 20 percent of which have a college degree. Lake, Obion and Weakley counties, located near Memphis, make up the fourth council with a combined population of 72,000 residents and about 20 percent of them have a college degree.

The last council, with only 26,000 residents, is made up of Humphreys and Perry counties. Only 18 percent of their residents have a college degree.

The five councils will travel to Nashville this fall to inform Complete Tennessee of their progress and plans.