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Editorial: Mill legacy can be a millstone

In Saturday’s Post, Mark Wineka, with help from Kannapolis Citizen Editor Joanie Morris and part-time reporter Hugh Fisher, reviewed what has changed in the five years since Pillowtex closed.
Unfortunately, from one perspective the answer is: Not much.
Judging from Post reporters’ research and a report released last week, too many residents of Rowan and Cabarrus counties will not be ready to apply for the high-paying jobs that David Murdock and several of the state’s most prestigious universities have promised to bring with them.
Mac Holladay, head of Market Street Services, released his firm’s assessment of the regional workforce and how well it will serve the N.C. Research Campus ó and vice versa.
Holladay found that while the Research Campus will generate a tremendous demand for employees with bachelor’s or master’s degrees, few residents are really preparing themselves for those jobs.
Twenty-three percent of Rowan County residents don’t even have a high school diploma, and only 14 percent hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
Holladay bemoaned the continuing lack of initiative that so many laid-off Pillowtex workers ó and local workers, in general ó show toward the unprecedented opportunity the Research Campus presents.
When Pillowtex closed, less than 25 percent of the company’s former workers took “full advantage” of federal aid that would have paid for them to go to school for training for another job.
For a year or more after Pillowtex closed, many of those laid-off workers held onto the hope that the textile giant would somehow miraculously reopen.
Holladay noted a “historic culture that does not value education,” that, instead, depended on the local mill to take care of generations of the same family.
Local residents might refer to it as the “mill mentality.”
An official who works in the office of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College right across from the future Research Campus recounted for Wineka how some people walk in and say simply, “I want a job there,” pointing at one of the new buildings.
They don’t really know how to go about getting a job there. That’s OK because that’s what the community college is willing to do ó help people identify degrees that will prepare them for those jobs, which jobs they might like and the training they will need to get those jobs.
What’s discouraging is the number of people who simply walk out when they realize they have to go to school and apply themselves if they ever hope to get one of those high-paying jobs.
Clearly, Rowan and Cabarrus residents should be proud of their heritage ó of generations who were willing to work hard day in and day out, of the tight-knit communities they built that remain today.
But just as clearly, we must embrace change ó and the future the Research Campus represents. And the key to that future and a decent living for our families is a diploma.

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