Changing parents' minds key to Cobb economy: chamber official says

·3 min read

May 21—CUMBERLAND — Keeping Cobb's economy humming will require more than just continued investment in programs that prepare workers for the jobs of tomorrow. It will require changing parents' minds.

In a 10th-floor office overlooking Truist Park, Dana Johnson, of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, told members of the county's development authority a recent study they helped fund found rapid growth in a handful of industries: healthcare, engineering, construction and social work.

Staffing businesses in those industries, Johnson continued, would mean steering some students toward trade school and community college rather than a four-year university; a hard sell for many parents who see the latter as the lone road to prosperity and success.

"I think we as a society have been ingrained that a four-year education is the only way that you can have a successful career," Johnson said. "And I think what we're trying to do is make sure that parents and students understand that there are multiple options — that certainly a four-year degree is an excellent way to further yourself and your family — but also there are incredible opportunities to make great money in our professional trades."

Those efforts are already underway, of course. Johnson lauded the Cobb and Marietta school districts for their career academies, and the state legislature for funding Georgia's second VECTR center, to be housed at Chattahoochee Technical College. That center will train veterans who may have in-demand skills but lack requisite certifications needed to find a job after their military career.

More recently, a program initiated by the Cherokee County Department of Economic Development dubbed "Be Pro Be Proud Georgia" has come to Cobb, bringing a mobile workshop to schools around the county to introduce students to the trades.

The study analyzed the current jobs market and predicted what it would look like come 2026.

Among its other findings were that, between 2015 and 2019, Cobb's working population grew 2.5%, its labor pool grew 3% and its unemployment rate dropped from 5.9% to 3.5%, Johnson said.

As for information technology, the number of county jobs in that industry have remained flat in recent years. The majority of new jobs in the field are in financial technology and cyber security, he said.

The study was first unveiled at an April meeting of the Cobb Workforce Partnership, which helped fund the study along with the development authority.

Development authority member Karen Hallacy noted the existence of companies looking for skilled workers and academies that are purportedly creating those very workers. She asked Johnson whether the inability of both parties to find each other was a communication issue.

Courtney Knight, the development authority's newest member, said Johnson's presentation gave him a "sense of what our workforce development community or ecosystem is doing."

Tuesday's meeting was the first to feature Knight, who was recently appointed by county Chairwoman Lisa Cupid. Knight replaced businessman Kevin Nicholas.

Introducing himself at the top of the meeting, Knight said his background in municipal finance would be an asset to the authority.

Knight grew up in a single-parent household in Phoenix, Arizona, he said. As a child, he often saw men out of work, their families struggling.

"And I would cry and I would tell my grandfather, 'if we could only find them jobs, they would take care of their families.' And that stuck in my heart my entire life," he said. "So when I graduated from Harvard (University), instead of going into investment banking on Wall Street and serving corporations, I went into the field of municipal finance, where I thought some of the projects I could work on in finance would provide not only infrastructure and commercial development like we see out the window here, but jobs."

When Cupid nominated him to a position on the Cobb Development Authority, he saw an opportunity to "fulfill my mission, my life's work."