It is June 1999. I had occasion to party that day because I was proudly graduating from Rogue Community College.
A sunny hot day, I donned shorts under my black gown and gold sash. Those angelic little faces are my children (pictured), who were 13, 11 and 9 years old. My eyes were closed, so maybe I was just dreaming that they were angels!
I am so grateful for the educational and career pathway my RCC associate degree created for me. So, it was unquestionably an enthusiastic “yes” when I was asked to participate in a promotional campaign for RCC featuring several other local alumni. Earlier this week, I met a television news reporter at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center to dutifully hold my 1999 alumni sign for a quick video clip. Then we chatted briefly about the song “Party Like It’s 1999.”
The iconic rock star Prince released that well-known hit in 1982 amidst the Cold War and fears of a nuclear Armageddon. Interestingly, this was the year I graduated from high school. After conversing about this day with my oldest son later in the week, I remembered that in fact my family and I did not party like it was 1999 at all.
If you are doing your math, you have accurately calculated that I was 35 at the time — hardly your average college student. And why didn’t we party? Family dynamics. That’s my polite way of sharing that all my children were arguing about something – or more likely, nothing. Their father and I decided to skip what would have been a treat for all of us – dinner at a restaurant! We probably drove home in silence, a far cry from a party.
My son, hot and tired from sitting on the damp grass lawn at RCC’s Redwood Campus amphitheater, recalls arguing with his younger siblings over where we might go out to dinner. I was probably thinking where can we go out to dinner that offers a 99-cent special for kids under twelve – or is that only on Sundays? And I was probably pondering if my oldest son could pass as still being under 12!
The unemployment rate in 1999 was relatively low for Oregon at 5.7%, compared to 6.9% just last month. Oregon’s minimum wage was $6.50 per hour. Both my husband and I were gratefully employed at that time, albeit part-time for me. Family economics was a daily discussion and I frequently stressed about our $440 house payment.
Sheepishly, I will admit here that I did not even know what economic development was 21 years ago. Nor did I know how impactful my 2-year RCC experience would ultimately be in molding my future career. It was through an RCC Cooperative Work Experience (a required credit course) with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) that I learned about SOREDI. The two agencies were at that time, and for many years thereafter, co-located.
Roughly 3 years after that internship and after graduating from Southern Oregon University with my bachelor’s degree, I received a phone call from SOREDI with an invite to apply for an open position as Project Manager. The economics of my world began to change significantly.
Rogue Community College, now celebrating its 50th year of service to Southern Oregon, released an executive summary this week on their economic impact to our region. The summary, which was created by a labor market analytics firm, EMSI, reported that RCC made a $368.2 million total impact in the 2018-2019 academic year and supported 5,889 jobs. This clearly justifies its statement that “RCC influences both the lives of its students and the regional economy.” Here is a link to read the full executive summary.
Last November, SOREDI released its 5-year updated Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). The new CEDS subsequently led to a significant staff restructure to carry out many hundreds of tactics over the next 5 years and beyond. Tactics to help our region become the most business friendly region on the west coast. Tactics to help us also attract and recruit stellar companies to our region that not only invest in the region and create jobs, but also fit our community values.
RCC plays a critical role as we work collectively to: Invest in the ecosystem that attracts, equips, and retains a strong pipeline of talent to meet the long-term needs of current and future employers. An entire initiative in our One Rogue Valley CEDS is built around talent and workforce development – particularly the development of skilled, employable persons in the trades and allied health professions.
SOREDI is often asked what the major considerations are for companies as they explore expansion and relocation opportunities here. One-word response: talent. Of course, there are many other factors – land availability, cost of doing business, infrastructure, and taxation to name just a few. But nearly every lead will state that a skilled workforce is a critical leading consideration and ask about our higher education infrastructure.
Many of my years with SOREDI included being the point person on staff who responded to relocation leads. Over the last month or so I have continued to respond to several new leads – despite a worldwide pandemic, economic uncertainty, and political unrest.
Even with this “freeze” business will move forward. Our region must continue to address workforce shortages, skill sets, and support for our local colleges and universities. Gratefully, we have amazing educational assets here to address employer needs. We cannot underestimate the value that educated and skilled citizens bring to our community – whether it’s a local startup, local expansion, or new company recruitment.
Looking again at RCC’s economic impact, I found it interesting how EMSI broke down RCC’s impact by perspectives – the student, the taxpayer, and society. And now you have my real-life perspective – from my personal and professional point of view. Education changed everything for me and RCC was my starting line.
My angels are all working, educated, and contributing adults today – heavy lift helicopter mechanic, pharmacy technician, construction supervisor. They all have degrees because they worked hard to get it done. That is what it takes. I would like to think, too, that they saw their mother as a non-traditional student reset her own economic course to become the best she can be.
I trust you have a better picture of how invaluable Rogue Community College is to our community. We all know someone who is ready to pivot in their own career and exponentially change their family economics. Encourage them today – spur them on to set a new course. Employers are desperately seeking – even right now – skilled people with initiative.
We can still party like it is 1999! Even with the pandemic, this is no time to stand still. It may be in our home, and possibly a party of one. But crank up the music and allow me to spur you on to dance a jig – we have so much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
Colleen Padilla, Executive Director
Trail name: Spur