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New Plants Should Be Breaking Ground In Black Communities
8/4/2016 11:29:58 AM

The Mercedes-Benz North Charleston plant is expected to bring 1,300 jobs to the area
By Barney Blakeney

Thousands of jobs will come to the Charleston metropolitan area in the next two years. The black community should be preparing for them.

Mike Patterson is the dean at Trident Tech’s Mount Pleasant campus. For weeks he’s been unofficially talking to folks in the black community about getting prepared for the manufacturing jobs that will enhance the local economic landscape. He’s miffed to understand why more isn’t happening to position young blacks to qualify for and receive employment in the burgeoning industry.

The Lowcountry is economically transitioning. Manufacturers making everything from paper products to airplanes and auto parts have brought thousands of high-paying jobs to the region. Many blacks feel trapped in low wage jobs, but aren’t preparing to participate in the highly skilled workforce that is required by Volvo and Mercedes or the companies that already exist, said Patterson.

Last week, Mercedes-Benz broke ground on its North Charleston plant expected to bring in some 1,300 jobs over three years. Volvo already has begun building. Both companies are making facilities investments of about $500,000 each and eventually will rival Boeing’s 3,500 employee workforce. Mercedes-Benz expects to begin hiring by the middle of next year.

Patterson thinks now is the time for potential employees to prepare. Customarily, the state likely will offer training through its ReadySC program offered at technical colleges. The companies themselves also will provide training, Patterson said. But the black community has been slow to pick up on the uptick.

Enrollment now in Trident Tech’s Industrial Manufacturing Certification program in a year could offer individuals with no industrial experience a foot in the door to companies looking for trained and trainable workers.

Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, III pastor of Charity Baptist Church in North Charleston said he wants to see companies moving to the area close the gap between rhetoric and work. He thinks companies should bring training to black communities. In the absence of efficient mass transportation, churches and community centers can become training centers. He suggests partnerships started now can develop cadres of trained employees by the time the new plants open in 18 months.

“We need a serious commitment from the new industry which shows they’re willing to do business with the black community in a new way,” Rivers said. “That includes not only jobs, but participation on boards, in procurement of goods and services, investments in our financial institutions and through philanthropy.”

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