When visitors describe the lower Orangeburg and upper Dorchester (LO/UD) region of South Carolina, they often paint a picture of distress. Abandoned farms and neglected houses dot the rural landscape; over the years, neighbors have faced persistent poverty and unemployment.
This region—referred to as LO/UD—was one of the 22 sites involved in the Program for the Rural Carolinas. Led by a state senator and the minister at the local Shady Grove United Methodist Church, team members targeted job training, entrepreneurship and civic engagement. Their efforts created a workforce development system that didn't exist before.
Creating a New Workforce Development System
"There are good jobs here, but you have to be skilled," says Garon Jackson, who acted as the site's program coordinator. "Our focus was to create training programs that would ... help people go from working at McDonalds to working at higher wage jobs."
LO/UD's leadership team worked with area community colleges to offer courses in nursing, manufacturing and truck driving, making sure the training was locally accessible. To create jobs, the team offered classes in rural entrepreneurship.
Jackson gives examples of how the Program for the Rural Carolinas changed lives. One person went into business for herself and opened a boarding house. Another woman, a single mother with no work experience, graduated from the program's Certified Nurse Assistant course—and had a job offer the next day.
Civic Engagement and Improved Confidence
Other benefits were more subtle. Jackson saw civic engagement rise and confidence increase.
Kim Sturgeon, an assistant vice president for advancement at Trident Technical College in Charleston, agrees. During the program, she acted as LO/UD's administrative coordinator.
"People started looking at possibilities that they didn't see before," she says. "They have ideas and plans. The community started thinking ‘How do we lift ourselves up,' rather than ‘How do we get out of here to find a job.'"
After funding from the Program for the Rural Carolinas ended, the LO/UD project faltered. But by the fall of 2008, it had gained momentum and evolved into a nonprofit organization, the Lower Orangeburg-Upper Dorchester Community Development Corp. Between 2007 and 2008, training courses produced 150 graduates.
"We're not there yet," Jackson says. "We're far from there. But we're building on the foundation."
Numbers at a Glance
Certified Nurse Aide Program
- Number assessed for the program: 150
- Program enrollments: 98
- Graduates: 92
- Placed in CNA employment: 87
Patient Care Technician Program
- Number enrolled: 28
- Graduates: 27
- Placed in healthcare jobs: 27
Pre-Employment Manufacturing Program
- Number enrolled: 71
- Graduates: 57
- Placed in manufacturing jobs: 37
- Number enrolled: 5
- Graduates: 5
- Placed in transportation jobs: 5
Rural Entrepreneurship Training
- Number enrolled: 26
- Graduates: 20
- New businesses started: 7
- At-risk businesses helped: 10
Robert R. Webb III
Director of Rural Church