PENDLETON ---  There is nothing more important to South Carolina than preparing young people to go into the workforce, Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt said, crediting Tri-County Technical College's Mechatronics curriculum, apprenticeship programs, dual enrollment offerings and technical career pathways programs in making the state a frontrunner in advanced manufacturing.

Hitt spoke to a crowd of nearly 250 business, industrial, education, government and political leaders at the College's Annual Report Luncheon.  President Ronnie L. Booth distributed copies of the annual report, a 48-page publication that highlights the major accomplishments of the College and Foundation during 2014 - 2015.

"We need our kids to see what their futures could look like," said Hitt, referencing the Career Pathways Program (CPP) program which gives students a head start on college, allowing them to complete an associate degree in a technical program within one year of full-time study after high school.  Since 2013, Tri-County's CPP program has grown from seven students in one district to 166 students from all seven school districts.

"The pathways program, funded by a state proviso, will be the answer to workforce needs," he said.

"I'm proud of what Tri-County does in leading the way," said Hitt.

"We've had unprecedented success in recruiting new industry to our state," said Hitt.  "The secret sauce is our workforce."   In the manufacturing sector, S.C. is the fastest-growing state in Southeast, he said.  The success in transitioning from textiles to advanced manufacturing is the state's remarkable people, he said.  "We had a vision and stayed the course and at the center of it is our technical colleges. Tri-County is a critical member of that team," he said.

"It's all about what we sell -- what's in this room," he said referring to an audience of educators, manufacturers, economic developers and community partners.  "We have recruited 75, 000 jobs in four and one half years.  We must put 20,000 individuals in jobs in the next three to four years. Twenty years ago, we had no auto workers.  Now we have 9,000."

Hitt reminded the audience that there is stigma about the image of working in manufacturing.  "Many are told don't work in a mill.  Today, the mill requires using your head, your heart and your hands," he said.

The most complex consumer product in the world is made in S.C., he said.  "Companies invest here because we are good.  The largest BMW production facility in the world is located in S.C.  We have the largest and best tire companies in the world," he said, referencing other companies like Michelin, Bridgestone and Continental, who have located in the state.

"25 years ago, if you had said BMW would locate in S.C., I would have laughed. Now we have BMW, Mercedes and Volvo.  There is no state in the U.S. with a constellation of companies like that.  We are the premium car state," he said.

"Today, we are 50 - 50 in terms of company expansions and new companies relocating to S.C.  We have new dollars, new blood, new footprints, all of which are vital to our success.  S.C. is ranked number one in foreign investment.  It's not me, it's you.  We all work together and are an extension of each other," he said. 

The best and most effective ways to close the skills gaps in today's workforce involve partnerships, training and apprenticeships/internships, he said.

He referenced Apprenticeship CarolinaTM, a way to formalize the training process and to create a pipeline of skilled workforce for today's advanced manufacturing and business jobs.     

It is another success which came out of a need for workers.   "Now we have the fastest-growing apprenticeship program in the country.   That's what we do.  That's who we are.  Be proud of every success," said Hitt.