Education and working together were popular themes at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce’s 134th annual meeting on Tuesday, which also featured a panel discussion of area executives and a presentation of awards.
Chamber CEO Carlos Phillips said at the event at the Greenville Convention Center that the county’s educational attainment rate has increased 10 percentage points since 2009, with 49% of 25-64-year-old residents possessing high-quality credentials and degrees.
However, he said, many peer and aspirational communities have much higher rates, resulting in higher incomes, increased wealth, and greater economic mobility.
“We will charge forward on our path in accomplishing 60% educational attainment in Greenville County in order to grow incomes and our economy,” said Phillips. “To paint a clear picture, by 2030 we will need 20,000 more quality credentials and degrees in our community.”
This will require maintaining strong partnerships with K-12 schools, colleges and universities as well as providing students with real-life workforce skills with local businesses, Phillips added.
“If you leave with only one takeaway, please make it this: Greenville is better, stronger, and greater when we achieve together,” said Phillips. “We achieve nothing alone and without partnerships.
A panel discussion featured Clemson University President Jim Clements; University of South Carolina President Michael Amiridis; Prisma Health president and CEO Mark O’Halla; and Danya Trent, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of F-16 Programs and Greenville site general manager.
Here are four key takeaways from the discussion:
Clements: Clemson University and Prisma Health have partnered to tackle the nursing shortage in the Upstate and AI-enabled devices in health care, in addition to working with Lockheed Martin on advanced laser systems, which is crucial to the country's military defense.
“Partnerships are key for us, and they are key for our students,” said Clements.
Trent: Lockheed Martin planted roots in Greenville about 38 years ago and is now the global home for the F-16 — the “backbone” of the U.S. Air Force, and provides security and deterrence for 25 U.S. ally countries around the world. Lockheed Martin moved its F-16 line from Fort Worth, Texas, a few years ago and now have six countries who have ordered the new advanced F-16 — they will be building 148 of these for those six countries and expect to build more than 300 over the next few years. With all this growth and demand, the company has added onto its workforce by 75% over the last few years and continues to grow.
“With nearly 1,400 employees, we are moving fast, and that creates a need for a strong supply of young talent interested in technology career fields,” said Trent. “These partnerships we have with the universities are essential. We love the sound of freedom, and we hope you love it, too. We are so excited to be a part of this community.”
Amiridis: Information is widely available today. You can get information anywhere and everywhere. Even solutions to technical problems can be solved quickly. There is no need to fill the mind with processes, but instead, to prepare the mind to know what to do with that information, to be able to ask the right questions and apply the solutions, and how to work with others to do so.
“To remain competitive in the global economy, we need a well-educated and driven workforce,” said Amiridis. “These changes started 20 years ago, and what we have been seeing is an acceleration of the rate of change. It is important for us to continue to generate new knowledge. It is our obligation to create an innovation hub in this state.”
O’Halla: Currently, labor in health care is Prisma’s single biggest challenge. One of the great things about not only Greenville but South Carolina is the population is growing rapidly but also contributes to that challenge, O’Halla said. Three years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Carolina had the second-lowest registered nurse ratio per capita in the country. Today, the state is fourth lowest.
The population is outpacing the ability to put nurses through nursing school. The projection by 2030 shows a shortage of 10,000 registered nurses across the state, which is why partnerships with Clemson University and University of South Carolina are imperative to be able to care for people in the Upstate. The nation saw a 117,000 loss of physicians just last year, while about 35,000 new physicians graduated. Clemson University is adding more slots to its nursing program to help address this crucial need.
“Health care providers are trying to keep up with this labor challenge,” said O’Halla. “We have loss so many more than we can generate. We have to have that connection (with higher education partners) to build that pipeline. Without that commitment, there is absolutely no way for us to pull this off. I think we are seeing success on the nursing side.”
The Greenville Chamber honored the following business award recipients at this year’s annual meeting:
Cal Hurst of Southern First Bank, who took over as the 2023 Greenville Chamber of Commerce board chair, said he is proud to be a part of the business community in Greenville County while having the opportunity to serve it.
“I firmly believe in the Greenville Chamber’s ability to help businesses succeed and people prosper, and I hope all of Greenville County will join us in that work,”