WESTMINSTER — Oconee County fulfilled a 150-year-old dream of having a college in the Golden Corner when partners from government, education and economic development gathered to break ground on the future site of the long-awaited Oconee Campus of Tri-County Technical College.
“This is a milestone for the College and for Oconee County,” said John Powell, Oconee County native, businessman and chairman of the College’s Commission.
Tri-County President Ronnie L. Booth joined Oconee County partners to break ground on the Oconee Campus, the first building to be constructed on the site of the future Oconee County Workforce Development Center. The Oconee Industry and Technology Park, located on Highway 11 in Westminster, will co-locate an Oconee Campus of Tri-County Technical College, a new Career Center for high school students, adult education and industry.
The result will be a unique center for technical education, work-based learning and economic development. The project is a partnership between Tri-County Technical College, the School District of Oconee County and Oconee County.
“We have waited a long time for this day. It took everyone working together to make this a reality,” said Powell, who recounted the history of Oconee’s pursuit of a college dating back to the late 1800s when Adger College was located in Walhalla for a decade, followed by the Walhalla Female College that opened and closed.
Newberry College was located in Oconee County from 1868 until 1879 when it relocated back to Newberry to make way for Clemson College which was later annexed into Pickens County.
“Since 1868 Oconee has tried to open and keep a college. Today it is a reality and has taken all of us working together. It is only possible because of the tremendous partnership between the College, the county and the school district. As an alumnus of Tri-County and as a commissioner, I couldn’t be prouder,” said Powell.
“This is a big day in the life of the College,” Booth said. “It’s all about one goal – to serve the needs of Oconee County This facility will help us take care of our industry partners and to recruit more like Baxter Industries (Hi-Tech Mold & Engineering and its subsidiary Baxter Industries, full-service suppliers to the plastics and tooling industries are first to locate in the park),” he said.
“A big piece of this is sharing the property and co-locating with the school district — sharing facilities to make the best use of your tax dollars. We envision students walking out of the classes down the sidewalk to an apprenticeship and finding a permanent working home. Oconee has a lot to be proud of,” said Booth, who thanked Blue Ridge Electric Co-op for its early gift of $100,000 in 2015 as seed money to get the project started.
Dr. Michael Thorsland, superintendent of the School District of Oconee County, echoed that collaboration is the key and thanked the “school board who is willing to do what is best for the county and the children of the county.”
“The future of Oconee County is bright and it is because of this Workforce Development Center,” said Zachary Hinton, vice chair of the Oconee Economic Alliance Board and vice president of economic development and government relations for Blue Ridge Electric Co-op.
“The Oconee Economic Alliance Board talks about how this area is the geography of opportunity and today we can see it — a BMW supplier (Baxter Industries) right inside this park and now we see a new home for a Tri-County Technical College Campus in Oconee County,” said Hinton.
Since 2012 the Alliance has ushered in 29 economic development projects that will yield more than $335 million in new capital investments and more than 1,300 new jobs, said Hinton. “That is a great run of success that we are proud of but to continue this level of success this new campus is going to be one of the key ingredients. This is a game-changing moment for Oconee County’s future and for the surrounding areas. Our future workforce will be trained here. Our future economic success begins here with Tri-County, the School District’s new career center, adult education center and industry all coming together on the same piece of land. Nobody else is doing this in South Carolina.”
The Oconee Economic Alliance and the county secured a $500,000 grant from the SC Rural Infrastructure Authority to put into place new water and sewer lines.
The Appalachian Regional Commission announced July 6 its approval of $1,249,303 for Oconee County to fund the Oconee Industry and Technology Park Access Roads project.
The funds will be used for improvements and construction of 1.37 miles of roadways which include widening 0.42 miles of S.C. 11, paving 0.45 miles and 0.50 miles over two industrial park interior roads.
Oconee County Council Chair Edda Cammick praised the “excellent economic development team who continues to bring industry to the county. I am looking forward to bringing much needed talent to our workforce.”
Program offerings at the campus will support manufacturing in the region and will include CNC Programming and Operations, Manufacturing Management and Leadership, Business Administration with an emphasis in Operations Management; Industrial Electronics Technology and Mechatronics.
“These buildings will go a long way to fulfill the need for job-ready employees,” said Rep. Bill Sandifer.
The 37,000-square-foot Oconee Campus is estimated to cost $7.25 million and will be paid for by State-appropriate funds. Oconee County provided land and site preparation valued at $2.75 million (TCTC campus portion only).
“Partnerships brought us to this point,” said Sen. Thomas Alexander, who thanked his colleagues for supporting the appropriation in the state budget. “We were united every step of the way. Without that team effort we wouldn’t be here today. This campus will ensure that Oconee County has a bright economic future for its citizens.”
For former educator Rep. Bill Whitmire, the campus is a dream come true. He recalled a young man from Oconee he taught 25 years ago whose goal was to enroll at Tri-County but finances, family obligations and mostly travel time to the Pendleton campus got in the way of him pursuing his education. “He missed his chance but his son will have that opportunity for what is happening here today,” Whitmire said.
The campus will open fall semester 2018.