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Over the past two months, the Land of Sky Region in the mountains of North Carolina has become involved in an exciting state initiative (myFutureNC) that has the potential for helping shape the future of our region. We are busy creating a coalition of local leaders to better align educational outcomes with future economic needs, and our efforts have been identified as a pilot project for the state initiative.

North Carolina is experiencing explosive growth in diversity, size, and economic activity, yet we have a significant skills gap that’s putting our state at risk. Employers across all 100 counties are struggling to fill job vacancies, citing lack of technical skills and education as the primary reasons they’re unable to hire. Furthermore, less than half our current workforce between the ages of 25 to 44 has a postsecondary degree or certificate. More than 80% of high school graduates are not ready for college based on state standards. Finally, we have an equity issue in that far fewer students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds are earning postsecondary credentials than those students with greater economic stability.

Earlier this year, myFutureNC set forth an important call to action and an aggressive goal to ensure that two million 25- to 44-year-olds have earned a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential by 2030. Achieving the two million number would mean bridging an expected 400,000-worker shortfall between our current workforce trajectory and projected workforce needs. If achieved, it would make North Carolina a national leader in postsecondary attainment.

Since February, myFutureNC has been hard at work educating key stakeholders and leaders on the initiative’s goals so the entire state is aligned and working toward the same outcomes. The effort has made significant strides by gaining the full endorsement of many critical groups, including the NC Independent Colleges and Universities, the State Board of Education, the UNC Board of Governors, State Board of Community Colleges, NC Chamber of Commerce, and NC Works Commission. Further, the General Assembly passed with tremendous bipartisan endorsement a bill in support of myFutureNC and our “2 Million by 2030” goal, which was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on June 27.

To sustain the momentum and work toward these goals, leaders of the initiative have made the decision to evolve the myFutureNC Commission into a nonprofit organization with three key responsibilities that will help North Carolina reach its attainment goal. This new organization will:

  • Create the space for business and education leaders to continue to collaborate and align strategies, since no sector on its own can meet the goal. In addition, the Commission is seeking ways to coordinate with regional efforts that have been underway for many years to increase attainment.
  • Continue to broaden and deepen the public’s understanding and awareness of “2 Million by 2030,” why that is the goal, and what it will take to achieve it.
  • Track our state’s progress towards the goals and indicators developed in the myFutureNC call to action.

Already, we are incredibly proud of the catalytic effect myFutureNC and the goal has had in local communities. In our region, Land of Sky — which is located in the mountains of Western North Carolina and includes Madison, Buncombe, Transylvania, and Henderson counties — leaders recognized the need to fill high-skill, high-paying jobs. We are fully supportive of myFutureNC and the postsecondary attainment goal and have begun to organize education and business leaders to ensure our four counties do their part to meet “2 Million by 2030.” Our area’s institutions of higher education, K-12 systems, and economic developers have expressed support for the initiative, and we are currently spearheading an educational attainment pilot project that is intended to become a model for the state. Our plan, through input from diverse stakeholders, is to “future proof” our region by strategically aligning educational outcomes with the needs of local employers. To this end, we will be creating a specific action plan that addresses educational attainment requirements and workforce needs, assesses the pilot project process, and confirms a set of metrics to monitor our success.

But our region is not alone in coming together to close the attainment gap. At the North Carolina Chamber’s Education Conference a few weeks ago, we learned about local successes across the state to drive change in educational attainment. Specifically, in Catawba County, a collaborative organization called K-64 is working to align industry and education — and has already seen early indicators of success. In Craven, Jones, Lenoir, and Wayne counties, an initiative known as STEM East is doing similar work to ensure students are engaging in real-world learning programs that align with career opportunities in Eastern North Carolina. Moving forward, myFutureNC plans to learn from these initiatives, in addition to the work of Land of Sky, to better understand how local regions are affecting change that will dramatically increase postsecondary attainment. In so doing, we intend to amplify those lessons learned and bring them to more communities across the state.

No longer is North Carolina turning a blind eye to the growing skills gap that’s impacting businesses, rural, and urban economies and the lives of its residents. Instead, they’re leading the way by setting an aggressive goal to ensure North Carolina remains competitive in today’s global economy. Working to ensure all North Carolinians — regardless of where they live — have access to high-quality, relevant educational opportunities will shape the future of the state’s economy, quality of life, and much more. Thanks to myFutureNC and all its supporters, the future of North Carolina is bright.

John F.A.V. Cecil

Mr. Cecil has served as President and CEO of Biltmore Farms, LLC, since 1992. Established in 1897, Biltmore Farms has focused its efforts on community building, through developing an extensive portfolio of real estate projects including a regional shopping mall, a mixed-use urban village, master planned communities, corporate offices, hotels, apartments, medical office buildings and over 1,000 homes.

Mr. Cecil serves as a Trustee of The Duke Endowment; Director of Barron Collier Management, LLC; Board of Directors of The Research Triangle Foundation of N.C.; Chair and Member of the National Advisory Board of the Institute for Emerging Issues; Board of Directors of N.C. GlaxoSmithKline Foundation; Chair, WNC Regional Advisory Board of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.; and Governor, Urban Land Institute Foundation.

Mr. Cecil received his M.I.M. from The American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird) and his B.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill. He has been happily married to Sarah Mettler Cecil since 1993, and they have four wonderful sons, Thomas, Hugh, John, and Owen.

Michael M. Dempsey

Dr. Michael M. Dempsey was appointed in April 2015 as the Dean and Director of Lenoir-Rhyne University’s Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville. The Center opened in August of 2012 in the Historic Montford area of Asheville and currently offers 12 graduate programs.

Dr. Dempsey came to Lenoir-Rhyne from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (A-B Tech), where he served in numerous capacities, most recently as director of educational partnerships. In this role, he provided leadership for the administration and growth of higher education-related academic programming and services for the college’s dual-enrollment programs, which provide high school students with access to college coursework. In addition, Dr. Dempsey oversaw the installment, operation, and expansion of A-B Tech college readiness centers, facilities located in local high schools that are designed to improve students’ math and English skills prior to high school graduation.

Dr. Dempsey’s other collegiate leadership experiences include building multiple community partnerships, management of recruitment efforts, and aiding in the creation and growth of three area cooperative-innovative high schools (Buncombe County Early College, Madison Early College High School, and the Martin L. Nesbitt Jr. Discovery Academy).

He has also taught college world history for a number of years, with particular emphasis on ancient Rome and ancient/medieval China and Japan. In addition to his work in higher education, Dr. Dempsey has more than eight years of experience in journalism.

Dr. Dempsey holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the College of Charleston, a master’s degree in history from the University of Charleston/The Citadel, and a doctorate in educational leadership from Western Carolina University. He and his wife, Jane Ann, are the proud parents of Harlan and Emma Rose. When he’s not working, Dr. Dempsey spends his time kayak fishing on Lake Santeetlah, pulling for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Philadelphia Phillies, and enjoying live music and all of the other great things that Asheville and Western North Carolina have to offer.

Laura Leatherwood

Laura B. Leatherwood, Ed.D., is the president of Blue Ridge Community College. Prior to Blue Ridge, she served for 17 years in various roles at Haywood Community College. Dr. Leatherwood holds a doctorate degree in university and community college leadership, a master’s degree in human resource development, and a bachelor’s degree in business law, all from Western Carolina University.

Nathan Ramsey

Nathan is the Director of the Mountain Area Workforce Development Board with Land of Sky Regional Council serving Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania Counties.  Prior to this role he was a Business Services Representative for the North Carolina Department of Commerce. Nathan served in the NC General Assembly representing House District 115 from 2013 to 2014 and as Chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners from 2000 to 2008.  Nathan grew up in Fairview in Buncombe County; he is a graduate of AC Reynolds High School, UNC Asheville, and the University of Tennessee College of Law. He is a member of the NC State Bar, trustee at the NC School of Science and Math, NC Association of Workforce Development Boards (NCAWDB) executive committee member,  member of the US Department of Agriculture NC Farm Service Agency State Committee and a member of the First Step Farm Board. Nathan is married to Robin, and they live on the family dairy farm.

Bill Sederburg

William Sederburg grew up in Minnesota. After graduating from Minnesota State University, Mankato he earned a Ph.D. in Political Science from Michigan State University. He married Joyce Witte in 1972 and raised a family in East Lansing, Michigan.

Sederburg has been involved in education policy his entire life. While a graduate student, he was elected to the Michigan State Board of Education. He served for 12 years as a Republican State Senator in Michigan where he distinguished himself as an advocate for higher education and creating futuristic state policy initiatives. For example, in 1986 he conducted the nation’s first statewide public hearing on the future of higher education via computer modems and personal computers. He was the inaugural chair of the Midwest Higher Education Commission, a compact of 11 midwestern states.

In 1994 he was selected as President of Ferris State University, a leading institution in “career oriented” education. Ferris’ mission included both community college and regional state university roles. Over the course of nine years, Sederburg led a renaissance of growth at Ferris State, increasing enrollment, rebuilding the campus, absorbing the private Kendall College of Art and Design of Grand Rapids, and re-establishing a healthy financial situation.  As a career oriented college, he enhanced career pathways, articulation agreements and promoted industry ties.

Sederburg left Michigan in 2003 to become President of Utah Valley State College (UVSC), a community college offering a limited number of baccalaureate degrees. During his tenure, Sederburg led the effort for UVSC to become Utah Valley University (UVU) in addition to serving as a community college.

Due to his success at UVU, the Utah Board of Regents and Governor Huntsman asked him to serve as Utah Commissioner of Higher Education, which he did so for four years.  During that time, he built a successful strategic plan adopted by the Governor and Legislature to achieve a post-secondary education certificate or degree rate of 66% by 2020.

In 2012 Bill and his wife Joyce retired to Asheville, North Carolina. However, he was called out of retirement by UNC President Tom Ross to serve as interim Chancellor of UNC Wilmington for the 2014-15 academic year. During his year he helped rebuild internal relationships among faculty, staff, trustees and civic leaders.

Upon returning to Asheville, Sederburg continues to be publicly engaged by serving on the N.C. Arboretum Board of Trustees, the UNCA Foundation Board (term now expired), and the Hub Leadership group.  He is currently serving as Chair of the West Next Generation Network initiative working to expand internet “broadband” services to western North Carolina.  He also serves as a Senior Scholar for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.