In 2014 I accepted a job offer that took me from sunny Southern California to rural Southeast Georgia to work at a community hospital that was part of the Mayo Clinic Health System. After starting my new job, I volunteered to join the local Waycross Rotary Club to help represent the hospital in the community. From this experience I was able to learn of a cross-sector collaboration between the local school district, the technical college and the local business community. This collaboration’s aim was to help high school students prepare for higher education and meaningful employment. This naturally occurring collaboration demonstrated the tremendous value that cross-sector initiatives can provide. It also illustrates how the Communities of Excellence Framework could provide communities across the country with a systematic framework to collaborate on and achieve multiple-shared community goals.
Waycross is small city in Southeast Georgia about an hour and a half drive from Jacksonville, Florida. The population has steadily declined from 20,944 at its peak in 1960 to 14,053 in 2015. The medium household income for a family in Waycross is $28,712 which is significantly below US median household income of $51,939. Six railway lines converge in Waycross and CSX Transportation operates a large railway hub called Rice Yard. Timber farming is a major industry which supplies several large Biomass plants producing wood pellets used in European Power Plants. The major educational institutions include Ware County School District, Costal Pines Technical College and South Georgia State College.
Given the community’s unique socio-economic circumstances, the following stakeholders came together and identified their primary needs:
1) Business Community: Need for an educated and trained local workforce
2) Secondary Education: Promote education programs to provide high school students seeking a college degree affordable opportunities to earn transferable college credit while still in high school
3) Community Technical College: Promote educational programs to provide students who do not have the opportunity to go to college, technical training programs that enable graduates join the local workforce quickly with meaningful employment.
In close collaboration these different community sectors sought to maximize and promote the State of Georgia’s Move On When Ready program (MOWR). This program allows qualifying high school students to take eligible college courses at the community college for free that also meet high school graduation requirements. After identifying the workforce training needs of the local business community, Costal Pines Technical College promoted multiple technical training programs accessible to high school students through the MOWR program. Some of these certificate programs included Timber Farming, Hospitality Services, Welding, and CNA certification.
The college also provided several options for high school students to attend classes on the college campus or by assigning certified technical college instructors to teach at the high school. With these programs in place it was feasible for a high school student to be able to complete these training programs while still in high school at no cost to them. Upon high school graduation these student’s could enter the workforce with technical certification and make $38,000 - $41,000 a year which is significant in this community.
This naturally occurring cross-sector collaboration provides significate opportunities for young people in the Waycross community while also meeting the needs of local businesses and educational institutions. This example from Waycross is just one of many examples of cross-sector collaborations that result in the improved vitality of communities. The Communities of Excellence Framework could provide communities like Waycross the tools to encourage, promote and enable coordinated cross-sector collaborations to solve multiple community problems in a systematic framework.