OPINION: Superintendent Highlights Connection Between Economic Development, Education

By Charles Foust, posted Jan 6, 2023
Charles Foust
Economic development is surging in Wilmington, but it will be unsustainable without connecting to a strong education system. Simultaneously, our students cannot see themselves staying close to home after high school graduation to meet local workforce needs without the business community’s support and involvement in our schools.

Fortunately, we have an engaged business community, a university, community colleges, a comprehensive public school system, and the Board of Education and County Commissioners investing in education. Everyone works together to prepare students for college, career training, and employment.

We have a thriving economy, and business leaders who recognize that their future workforce sits in our classrooms. With new businesses moving to Wilmington and industry anchors expanding in the city and the surrounding area, employers are recruiting continuously for the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

In the past, many students left the area to seek better career opportunities. Today, according to a recent Inc. Magazine report, Wilmington is home to several of the fastest-growing private companies in the nation. The business community is growing and helping our schools prepare students to graduate ready for college and each step in the local and national supply chains, which has long-term benefits for the workforce and a vibrant community searching for its next generation of leaders.

recent update to the county’s economic development report noted that employers repeatedly identified the need for a younger workforce and an increase in the diversity and number of high-wage jobs. The report recommended local colleges and high schools focus on preparing students for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.

New Hanover County Schools (NHCS) is preparing students for today’s jobs and future careers throughout the county. NHCS integrates STEM coursework in all schools and offers a STEM specialty program at Laney High School, industry training at the Southeast Area Technical Center, a marine science academy at Ashley High School, two early college high schools, a career-readiness academy, and entrepreneurship programs through our postsecondary partners.

To seed the city with talent that will grow far into the future, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce partnered with NHCS in 2022 to launch a middle school Career and Leadership Academy. Chamber members mentor 40 seventh-grade students exposing
them to local industry sectors and building their career knowledge and readiness. The school district is committed to the chamber partnership and supporting our newest academy’s growth.

Industry leaders have told me that local public schools are the top concern of families when businesses consider relocating and expanding in Wilmington and the Cape Fear region. We must welcome and support young families to sustain a vibrant community and remain an economically viable destination to live, learn, work, and grow.

Because I view the relationship between our public schools and businesses as mutually beneficial, I look forward to continuing our work together to ensure we thrive.
Charles Foust is the superintendent of New Hanover County Schools.
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