The educational opportunities offered by Elizabeth City State University will continue to play a key role in shaping the region’s labor force, particularly for the generation of young people just now entering — or who will soon be entering — the job market.
That’s just one of the messages to come out of a daylong economic development summit hosted by ECSU Monday. More than 60 leaders from 21 counties attended the event, held to find ways to better use the university’s strengths and assets to improve life in northeastern North Carolina.
Anita Brown-Graham, director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University, said the challenges facing Generation Z — the term used to refer to people born between 1990 and 2002 — are real.
Over the next eight years, members of Generation Z will make up a greater percentage of the workforce, but their standard of living and life expectations are projected to be lower than those of their parents, Brown-Graham said.
She challenged educators in the audience at the Ridley Student Center to rethink how and what they teach, reminding them that more and more students will be saddled with large college debts that will stifle their ability to move forward.
Having a four-year degree doesn’t guarantee that you’ll find a job, but not having one is almost sure to make you a bigger target for poverty, Brown-Graham said. The jobless rate for a college graduate is 4 percent. The rate for a high school dropout is 14 percent.
Where you live can also play a factor in employment opportunities. Some metropolitan areas of the state, like Raleigh and Charlotte, have managed to add jobs, despite the recession. Rural areas, on the other hand, are being left behind, Brown-Graham said.
While quality of life has always been a significant factor in where people choose to live, it will become even more so for Generation Z. Will successful young people choose to live in an area where the nearest movie theater is 30 miles away? Brown-Graham asked.
“The answer is they won’t,” she said.
That’s why it is important for communities to try and attract some of the businesses that will make the quality of life stronger.
“You need to be prepared to take risks,” Brown-Graham said.
Officials at Monday’s summit also discussed the types of job opportunities that will be available in the region.
Vann Rogerson, president of the Edenton-based Northeast Commission, said wind farms have been proposed in Currituck, Camden, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties. However, wind energy has been put on the back burner for now because of the growing availability of cheap natural gas. In addition, major utility companies currently are looking to solar farms for their alternative energy purchases.
Rogerson noted the potential for job growth in aviation remains strong. The region is already home to a large aviation workforce, and ECSU is the only university in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill system that offers an aviation degree. In addition, College of The Albemarle is partnering with Currituck County to expand its aviation ???program.
To the southeast, Hyde County is being touted as a good site for a testing facility for unmanned aerial vehicles. Used primarily by the military now, UAVs in the future will play a much bigger role in law enforcement, agriculture and utilities.
“The commercial side of UAVs is exploding,” Rogerson said.
ECSU also continues to be an economic engine for the region. An economic impact study released this month shows that in 2010, ECSU had a payroll of $59 million and an economic impact of $112 million.
Monday’s summit included leaders from numerous agencies with differing areas of expertise. A panel discussion, for example, featured the president of the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, the director of The Nature Conservancy, the presidents of both Roanoke Chowan Community College and the Golden LEAF Foundation, and the senior education manager for The College Board.
“We’re not going to solve all the issues today, but we can start the process,” said Calvin Riley of The Nehemiah Group, who helped facilitate Monday’s summit.