More than 30 officials actively participated Friday morning in a “golden shovel” groundbreaking for the new Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC) on the joint Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC)/Kershaw County Economic Development campus near I-20 Exit 98 in Camden.
Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan started off the ceremony by remembering being in a traffic jam with his father in western Pennsylvania.
“The road was all ripped up for an improvement project and there was a sign that said, ‘Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.’ Welcome to our temporary inconvenience,” Morgan said.
Following an invocation by Kershaw County Board of School Trustees Chaplain Shirley Halley, Board Chairman Ron Blackmon gave some words of welcome.
“We’re here today because of the support and hard work of many folks,” Blackmon said. “Because of this vision, of so many of our leaders in our county … the education and economic effects will be major and impact our community and county development.”
Building the new ATEC facility and moving it from its current location off U.S. 1 in east Camden is part of a group of district construction projects funded, at least in part, by a $129 million bond approved in Nov. 2016. Blackmon noted that many of those projects are underway. Those projects, he said, have put more than $15.5 million directly back into the local economy.
“We should all feel proud of our efforts in this local significant investment we are making in our county,” Blackmon said.
Morgan said State Sen. Vincent Sheheen has been part of the process of moving and rebuilding ATEC since it was “just an idea” being talked about around a table.
Sheheen said that people in Camden and Kershaw County know that the past is important, but the future is even more so.
“And I want everybody to look at that building over there,” he said, pointing to the newly constructed CCTC facility, “and then I want to visualize the building that will be located behind me and let me tell you, that is the future, ladies and gentlemen, and we should be incredibly excited about and proud about it. It is a big freakin’ deal for Kershaw County and the state of South Carolina.”
Sheheen said the new ATEC and CCTC are the result of cooperative effort.
“You don’t accomplish anything in a small town or a small county unless you work together. And the only reason this incredible complex is going to exist is because of cooperative effort,” Sheheen said.
He thanked the school board and Morgan for their leadership role, Kershaw County Council for “putting your money where your mouth is,” the CCTC board and leadership for providing the vision, the city of Camden and other municipalities for being willing to work together to support that vision.
“To me, this complex is a symbol of that unity and a symbol of that vision, but what’s really exciting is to think of the young people -- and adults -- of Kershaw County who will be able to have an education here at ATEC and then streamline with Central Carolina to achieve the work skills and education they need to succeed,” Sheheen said. “This is the future for Kershaw County, but it’s really more than that, it’s the future for South Carolina. When you travel around this state, and I have, you’ll see that we, in little old Kershaw County are going to be on the cutting edge of what it takes to invest in our young people our education and the work force necessary to succeed.”
State Rep. Laurie Slade Funderburk said ATEC has, for decades, provided Kershaw County high school and adult education students “meaningful and marketable skills” to take into the workplace.
“This tradition will continue in a new facility equipped for today’s job skills and that will have the necessary capacity for a growing student population and, located next to the new and expanded (CCTC) campus, invites them to an even brighter future,” Funderburk said.
She said there is an energy and excitement coming from the county’s decision to invest in itself.
“We have sent a clear and loud message to the students of Kershaw County: ‘We believe in you,’” Funderburk said. “Kershaw County has said to the world, to industry and to business that we are ready, willing and able to provide a high quality work force second to none with whatever skills are required. Eager minds, economic development, job training and prosperity can be born and nurtured here.”
Funderburk said the county’s decision to invest in ATEC gives students who might not otherwise know of the choice of following a trade path the “push” or “a-ha!” moment to take that path to success.
Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns said Friday was a day when the county said, “Yes.”
“In the army, we say ‘Hooah. In churches, we say ‘Amen.’ Both mean ‘Yes.’ Both mean anything but ‘no.’ They are the highest forms of affirmation,” Burns said. “So, today is all about ‘Yes.’ Yes to our future. Yes to the future of our children. And yes, ultimately, to the future of our county. Listen to the sounds of trucks on that interstate behind you. The sounds of commerce. The sound of progress.”
Burns reiterated a point he has made before, that Kershaw is not competing with other counties or even other states, but with the world.
“And these two buildings -- one built and one about to be built -- are outward and visible signs of this county’s inward and spiritual commitment to meeting the challenge of global competition -- a sacrament to the next generation, right here, right now,” he said.
Burns said he believes the county is not “too late” to build a trained and ready work force.
“If we aren’t too late, then we are only just in the nick of time. The Wall Street Journal and all major national media are replete with the urgency to build that work force,” Burns said. “Labor shortages are everywhere; jobs for skilled workers are at a premium. So, let our own headlines in the papers tell the next generation, and the staff of ATEC and CCTC: ‘Right here, right now.’ Let’s get started.”
He said a sense of urgency is needed.
“Say, ‘Yes.’ If we do say ‘no’ to anything today, it is no to complacency, no to backwardness, no to the curmudgeons in social media and elsewhere who would have us navigate by looking in a rear view mirror, going backwards. Had it not been for such nay-sayers, we would have already cut the ribbon on a new ATEC … just as we are going to do at CCTC very soon on this joint campus,” Burns said.
“So, I say thanks to the courageous men and women who did say yes to a better future. Yes to the school board, Yes to that precious majority on county council. Yes to our mayors, chamber and Committee of 100. Yes to the CCTC. Yes to the ATEC team. Yes to Vincent Sheheen and our delegation. And yes to our grandkids who have a guarantee of a better future and yes to the taxpayers and the voters.”
ATEC Director Gordon Morris came to the podium last and said he remembered growing up just a few miles down the road from where the bulldozers and other heavy equipment arebeginning the first steps of creating the new facility.
“My brother and I would often ride our bikes down Black River Road and we wanted to get close to town … whether they knew it or not, during the summer time,” Morris said, with his father in the audience. “And it’s amazing the change when I look down Black River Road to where I couple times helped the McCoy family cut wood in what used to be cow pastures and now there’s a Chinese plant sitting there. I never would have thought that. There’s a German plant. I mean, it’s amazing to see the changes since growing up in the 1970s and ’80s in Kershaw County.”
Morris said he has worked in and visited other counties and is excited to know he will be working in a facility that will be “rivaled by none” with other districts “envious of us.” As a parent, Morris said he has three children in the school system and is excited to have the new ATEC for them and, in later years, their children.
“About where you’re standing, right here, there’s going to be a walkway going straight to (the CCTC) campus … and let me give you some examples of what I’m looking forward to. There’s going to be welding programs, mechatronics programs, engineering programs, and those students can ride the bus over to us, become completers and … walk across and go ahead and start their advancement in those different programs as seniors in high school. So, they’ll be ahead of their counterparts in other districts.”
That, in turn, Morris said, would make them attractive to various employers with success stories.
“Gil Woolard -- it started with a vision and a mission he had for CATE, for career and technical education. He had a vision and he made it happen,” Morris said.
He said previous directors have made his job easier by bringing in new programs, such as biomedical sciences, to be right alongside traditional trades such as auto collision and welding. Morris also thanked the business community for offering various opportunities for students not just to learn but to show off what they learn.
Morris also thanked members of the Kershaw County Vocational Education Foundation for giving thousands of dollars to support programs, scholarships and more over the years.
“I’m excited and I will be super proud to be show this off to my local other CATE directors around the state and business folk for our workforce development,” he said.