Entrepreneurship program is the next right step

by David Morgan, Lawrence County Executive

One of my early priorities in this office was to see the construction of a Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) facility on the campus of Southern Tennessee Higher Education Center.

The reasons are easy to understand. Lawrence Countians make up the majority of the student body at both TCAT-Pulaski and TCAT-Hohenwald. Six percent of the state’s TCAT students are from Lawrence County. Among all counties, we rank number 9 for TCAT enrollment.

Then I learned what a strong presence TCAT already has here. Local high school students are enrolled in ten different TCAT dual enrollment programs offered at our high schools. In some, high school graduates can return to those classrooms the following year to complete their TCAT requirements.

Business partnerships have also expanded local opportunities. TCAT-Pulaski’s CNC Machining and TCAT-Hohenwald’s Industrial Maintenance programs are already here, housed in the former Murray building, now known as the Tennessee Enterprise Center.

Mark Booker owns the building and one of the businesses there, Advanced Design Solutions (ADS). ADS also provides welding tools and materials onsite for the grant funded MIG Welding for Industry program that TCAT developed and teaches county inmates who qualify. The same grant brings TCAT’s Certified Production Technician program to our jail, and is being used to equip and staff a TCAT Plumber’s Helper program for inmates.

Given all these facts, I was ready for the new vision I received in a meeting with CTE Director Shannon Watson, Director of Schools Michael Adkins, Lawrence Co. Schools Workforce Development Coordinator Hope Thomason and Chamber President Ryan Egly.

Last week I told you about all the great things CTE (Career Technical Education) is doing in our schools. There are other state-approved CTE programs that can be developed, Watson said, including Audio Visual Production; Hospitality & Tourism, which includes Culinary Arts; Information Technology, including Cybersecurity, Networking Systems, Coding, and Web Design; Law and Public Safety, which includes Fire Management and Criminal Justice (beginning Fall 2024 at SHS); Commercial Driver License (CDL); and Aviation.

Overall, Lawrence County School System’s goals for CTE are to have more programs that appeal to females, increase work-based learning opportunities, improve non-traditional enrollment, and offer more dual enrollment opportunities.

Another is to develop a program for future business owners at what would be the state’s second Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center (EIC), built at the Southern Tennessee Higher Education Center. It is my new priority, and we will begin this year to petition the state to fund this $15 million project.

The state’s first EIC opened in Williamson County in 2019. State-of-the-art equipment is combined with curriculum developed by the nonprofit Uncharted Learning, whose entrepreneurial programs are in 21 states including Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and three international locations, benefitting a total of 405 schools. We want to add our schools to that number.

The combination of equipment, curriculum, and coaching from the business community gives students hands-on experience in entrepreneurship and the multiple skills it involves. The two-year high school program takes them through the entire process of starting a business, launching a product, or offering a service.

Daily class periods are 45 minutes long, which would allow time for students to be bused to the center from any school in Lawrence County. Uncharted Learning has curriculum for grades 4-5; 6-8; 9-12; and the center could serve adult learners in evening classes.

School officials feel a strong entrepreneurship program fits perfectly with its other college-prep and CTE courses. All students can benefit from the skills it teaches – problem-solving, creativity, public speaking, teamwork, and adaptability. No matter what direction its graduates take, it broadens their knowledge and opportunities.

I believe this is an exciting time to live in Lawrence County, and the right time to bring a program of this caliber to our community.

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