Community Forums


Manufacturing Community Forums

In the face of evolving technologies and a globally competitive marketplace, the manufacturing workforce requires new and higher skill levels than in years past.  At the same time, rising wage levels and transportation costs, as well as other factors, are forcing companies to reexamine where they produce.

For the past year, the Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State University has been working to focus policymakers on the opportunities for business and job creation in next generation manufacturing. Now we are turning our attention to help communities like yours realize the economic benefits of new and advanced manufacturing, and what  kind of skills are necessary for working in this sector.

To facilitate a better connection between manufacturing businesses and education, IEI partnered with the NC Association of County Commissioners, NC Cooperative Extension and the NC Community College System to launch small community forums several counties throughout the state. These community forums brought together manufacturers, educators, city and county officials and other community leaders to focus on better aligning the needs of manufacturing businesses with North Carolina’s educational  systems. Better alignment can result in increased educational attainment, jobs, and, ultimately, economic rewards for each of North Carolina’s communities.

lessons learned

As we traveled across the state listening to communities discuss how to align manufacturing business with local education systems, three primary themes emerged.


Because of traditional manufacturing jobs, many people view manufacturing as assembly line work that requires few skills and can be dangerous. Yet today’s manufacturing requires much more than that.  Computers, lasers, and CAD software are just a few of the many new techniques used to create products today, and salaries are often much more competitive than most think. Manufacturing needs to be rebranded as a new, exciting career in order for people to begin its economic importance for communities.

Workplace Learning

The need for workplace learning emerged as a recurring theme. Apprenticeships, co-ops, field trips to plants and other hands-on learning experiences are wanted and needed throughout the state so that students not only understand what manufacturing is all about, but also so they learn the skill sets needed for these kinds of jobs.

Community networks

“It was businesses and communities that started the community college, and businesses were connected with community colleges on a personal level,” Dr. Garrett Hinshaw, President of Catawba Valley Community College, told the Hickory Record.  “For some reason, they’ve gotten away from that relationship.” Community partnerships between schools and businesses have been identified as an essential factor in promoting local manufacturing. Strengthening the relationship between educators – at all levels – and companies is key to bolstering local manufacturing and, in turn, increasing the wealth of local communities.

As a result of the community forum in Stanley County, Stanley Community College has received $500,000 to expand its programs in advanced manufacturing and industrial technology. This partnership with Carnes-Miller Gear will help produce a certificate program that enables students to learn the skills that are needed for manufacturing jobs that are growing specifically in their community. Read more about this effort here.

Chamber 314 MFG Works, Conover Station, NC  05-16-13.xmp

next steps

These conversations didn’t end at each community forum. Participants are connecting with each other to continue this discussion on aligning education with local manufacturing business in several different ways.


On September, 6, 2013, IEI hosted a webinar providing information on how to engage and connect with other communities through the Emerging Issues Commons, shared alignment best practices from communities like yours, and hosted a panel discussion of experts leading alignment efforts across the country.  Click here for more information and to watch a recording of the webinar.

Emerging Issues Commons

Communities across the state are continuing to discuss these challenges in the Emerging Issues Commons. Participants at each community forum are encouraged to create a profile within the Commons to add ideas, rate and comment on existing ones, and share the actions that their communities have taken to better connect educators and manufacturers.

Visit the Emerging Issues Commons to learn more and see how this conversation is progressing.

North Carolina Manufacturing


Participating Communities

Click here to see a list of participating communities as well as their primary point of contact and how to get in touch with that person.

Community Voices

Community ForumsJeremy Silver, a 2013 graduate of Isothermal Community College, is just one of many individuals benefiting from these community forums. Here is what he has to say about the impact of these kinds of opportunities.

“Many places would need updating to account for the advanced manufacturing setting, but the opportunities are there… I am not an expert in the field of advanced manufacturing, but I’m learning everyday that rural areas like Rutherford County have a great chance to increase employment and help their economy by adapting to this mindset.”

Read the rest of his story here. Interested in sharing your experience? Contact us.

Communities at Work

See how Cherokee County’s economic developers partnered with Snap-On Tools and Tri County Community College to develop a comprehensive pipeline to help students get from learning in the classroom to working on the factory floor.

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Want to see what kind of manufacturing assets are in your county? Explore the Emerging Issues Commons to find county-level data on manufacturing workforce, wages, entrepreneurial activity, and much more.