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How Workforce Development Transformed Caldwell County

Cultivating and capitalizing on the power of strategic partnerships is a fundamental component to improving North Carolina’s economic competitiveness across all 100 counties. No county knows this better than Caldwell County, which transformed its current and future economic outlook while becoming a Certified Work Ready Community. Less than a decade ago, Caldwell County’s economic outlook was dismal, with an unemployment rate of 17% and a high school graduation rate that failed to even hit 70%. It quickly became clear to community leaders that something needed to change in order to bring back the community’s economic prosperity and competitiveness. What started as informal discussions, transformed into a strategic partnership between community leaders, job creators and educators focused on tackling Caldwell County’s greatest challenges and improving its workforce readiness.

Together, these partners transformed Caldwell County’s economic competitiveness and its workforce readiness. Over last several years, Caldwell County has reduced its unemployment rate to 4.6% and increased its high school graduation rate to 91%. As Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission, described “if you took a snapshot of Caldwell County 10 years ago, 8 years ago, 7 years ago and you took it today, you would not recognize that it’s the same county.” These drastic improvements are a testament to the power of strategic partnerships and the growth possibilities that come from workforce development. It was an honor to award Caldwell County with its NCWorks Certified Work Ready Community designation last week.

Producing a globally competitive, world-class workforce across North Carolina relies on each community’s commitment to education and workforce development. Without the support of our local communities, securing North Carolina’s place as a top-ten state for workforce readiness becomes that much harder. The NCWorks Certified Work Ready Communities initiative serves to further economic growth in each of the state’s communities, distinguishing those that are taking the necessary steps to advance workforce development. In partnership with the Office of the Governor, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, the North Carolina Community College System Office and the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the North Carolina Chamber Foundation acts as the final certifying body to designate each NC Works Certified Work Ready Community. To date, 27 Certified Work Ready Communities have been designated across North Carolina and it is our goal to have a total of 30 installed by the end of this year. It’s clear we are well on our way to meet that goal but there is still much more to be done to ensure all 100 counties are Certified Work Ready over the course of the next five years. We look forward to adding more Certified Work Ready communities in the future, while securing North Carolina’s position as the number one place to find world-class talent in the global economy.

Gary J. Salamido
Vice President, Government Affairs
North Carolina Chamber