Skip to main content

WNC Business

Blue Ridge Community College’s direct economic and workforce contributions

Jul 12, 2023 08:22AM ● By Randee Brown

Blue Ridge Community College is a business in itself as well as a creator of jobs for WNC businesses, according to Blue Ridge Community College President Dr. Laura Leatherwood.

With 570 employees, 220 full-time and 350 part-time, BRCC is one of the larger employees in the region, according to Leatherwood. The college provides services to students as well as the community and the college’s partners, and there is always a positive return on the investment.

With an operations spending impact of $22.1 million, a student spending impact of $4.5 million, and an alumni impact of $101.6 million, the total economic impact of the college was $128.1 million with 2,416 jobs supported, according to an economic impact analysis from November 2021. 

More than spending, the alumni of the college also impact the community because once they graduate or receive their credentials, there is a greater chance of them staying in the community. “Students may participate in work-based learning with a local company and may be offered a full-time job,” Leatherwood said. “This workforce pipeline is what the community college is here for.”

The student body of more than 10,000 individuals consists of mostly WNC locals, according to Leatherwood. Some do come to the area from right across the SC state line, though the primary focus is to serve Henderson and Transylvania Counties and residents of WNC.

BRCC currently offers more than 200 courses in 30 different areas of study. There are also fast-track workforce training programs aligned with the primary sectors of the community including healthcare, advanced manufacturing, early childhood education, skilled trades, civil and environmental engineering, as well as information technology and cybersecurity which benefit all sectors. 

Leatherwood said every program has an advisory committee of eight to 10 area businesses, usually based in a particular sector. These committees understand what is actively happening in these sectors, what they are currently struggling with, and what skills students will need to have to successfully move into the workforce. They know what technologies are being used in each industry, what the college needs to teach, and what resources need to be provided.

“Our programs are created as a response to the community and the region,” Leatherwood said. “Our partners, communities, and counties let us know what they need now and what they will be needing in the next 10 years. It’s my job as president to align our programs with workforce development boards as a strategy to create skilled workers for those areas. What we don’t want is for students to earn their degree and say that they needed more of something but weren’t taught that.”

The Small Business Center at BRCC works with both students as well as other members of the community. Leatherwood said rural areas are driven by small businesses, and it's important to the college to continue providing opportunities for small business startups and teaching them more about marketing, increasing sales, business basics, financing, and how to deploy technologies. This helps small businesses to expand and create jobs for themselves.

In the Fall of 2022, Leatherwood said the SBC hosted 105 counseling sessions for small business owners, and since the 2017/2018 fiscal year, the BRCC’s SBC directly contributed to 84 startups in Henderson County.

Apprenticeships are the college’s fastest-growing program, according to Leatherwood. The college works with 45 employers across a variety of programs to offer an Earn while you Learn program allowing students to earn a paycheck while they are getting a degree. The idea is for students to continue employment after graduation, and they currently have a 90% retention rate within that plan and are adding more disciplines each semester.

“It’s important to remember the number one struggle is the workforce,” Leatherwood said. “Businesses often call the community college to see if students are interested in a particular line of work. When we can help them, we’re almost acting as a recruiting arm for these companies. Conversely, not everyone knows how to seek jobs in 2023. Everything is remote, and we are teaching people how to create a resume and market themselves on platforms like Indeed. It’s mutually beneficial; we are helping companies and helping individuals by matching them up.”

Starting this fall, BRCC will add several new majors for students, including Entrepreneurship and Artificial Intelligence. Leatherwood said programs like these can help to expand businesses and help students to think differently about opportunities and how to add value to companies.

“Creativity and innovation are the name of the game,” Leatherwood said. “It doesn’t matter what you are doing or where you are going, you will have to take some risks. Our goal is to help students figure out where they need to be and what their next step is to get there.”