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Council, UNCC team up to coax business to Salisbury

SALISBURY — City Council has agreed to join forces with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to help market Fibrant and lure more high-tech businesses to Salisbury.
Council members, three of whom earned degrees from UNC-Charlotte, agreed Tuesday to buy a $5,000 annual subscription to the new Business Partners program run by the UNCC College of Computing and Informatics.
The partnership aims to recruit high-tech firms to Salisbury, one of about a dozen “gig cities” in the country. Fibrant, the city’s high-speed broadband utility, offers Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.
Joining forces with UNC-Charlotte will provide the city with a pipeline of talent — students from the College of Computing and Informatics who are highly trained and ready for high-tech jobs in industries from advanced manufacturing to healthcare. Businesses considering new locations ask economic developers about workforce readiness in cities under consideration for expansion or start-up.
By 2018, UNCC predicts a deficit of 1.3 million workers in informatics as demand for the highly trained workforce increases.
City Councilwoman Karen Alexander, a UNCC graduate, made the pitch to City Council Tuesday, and a contingent of UNCC officials attended the meeting including Dr. Yi Deng, dean of the College of Computing and Informatics, and Maryalicia Johnson, director of Business Partners.
Olin Broadway, an executive in residence with the college who has earned the nickname the father of IT, or information technology, also attended, as did Rick Hudson, a Rowan County native who lives in China Grove and works as senior project manager for UNCC’s Data Science and Business Analytics Initiative.
The city-college relationship is part of a new push to use Fibrant to bring jobs and investment to Salisbury, one of the original justifications for building the $33 million fiber-optic network. So far, Fibrant has failed to serve as the economic engine city leaders envisioned, and the vast majority of Fibrant’s 3,000 customers are residential.
Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell recently attended GIGTANK pitch day in Chattanooga, Tenn., which has successfully promoted itself as a gig city. Salisbury has the same capabilities with Fibrant but has not promoted it as effectively, Blackwell said.
The UNCC College of Computing and Informatics is a leader when it comes to training workers and developing North Carolina as a hub for big data, Johnson said.
“Our focus is to create the future IT talent needed by high-value companies,” she said.
UNCC graduates twice as many IT students annually as the next five universities in the region combined. The college provides top firms in cyber security, bioinformatics, human-centric computing and other sectors with the talent they need to grow their businesses, Johnson said.
Deng, who Blackwell called a rock star for anyone who has worked in IT, said the College of Computing and Informatics is at the forefront of UNCC’s effort to serve as an economic engine.
“We are the prominent supplier of talent in the field of technology in this region,” Deng said. “How can we be at your service?”
For $5,000 a year, the College of Computing and Informatics will help place UNCC students in internships throughout departments in the city of Salisbury, not just Fibrant, so they “can get to know everything about Salisbury” and see opportunities here to live and work, Johnson said.
The subscription also includes connecting the city with companies looking for expansion opportunities, as well as the workforce they demand, she said.
Salisbury made a substantial investment in becoming a gig city, Councilman Brian Miller said. While Fibrant is great for watching TV, it’s real purpose is economic development, he said.
The city should take advantage of every possible way to leverage Fibrant and increase the level of engagement with the high-tech sector, he said.
“Shame on us if we don’t,” Miller said.
Miller and Councilman Pete Kennedy, who was absent Tuesday but gave his approval, are UNCC graduates.
Salisbury must re-invent itself and recruit talent to a city of 33,000 people when Charlotte, Raleigh and other larger cities have an advantage, Mayor Paul Woodson said.
The city needs more firms like Integro Technologies, which built a $3.2 million headquarters downtown last year, Woodson said. In a few years, Woodson said he hopes to expand Fibrant to areas outside the city limits.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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