When discussing the topic of education, it almost seems foreign to introduce tourism in relation to the subject. In reality, the two are highly connected with a direct impact between the health of the Tourism Industry and an increased education budget.

Although there are several state and federal funding sources available to the education system, the county’s education budget is highly impacted by the intake of a 1 cent sales tax. With a historically linear population change, how do we increase a county-wide sales tax intake? By driving visitors to our area and giving them good reasons to spend money in Jackson County.

That’s exactly what the Jackson County Tourism Office works on every single day!

Career Center Groundbreaking

In the fall of 2020, Jackson County Board of Education, Jackson County Innovation and Career Academy, Jackson County Economic Development Authority, and the Alabama Department of Education broke ground on a one-of-a-kind Innovation Center at the Industrial Park in Hollywood Alabama off of HWY 72.

The trailblazing Innovation and Career Academy is meant to provide a one-stop hub for potential employees who want to work with independent companies – offering customer service to management skills and every role in between. This provides a first-of-its-kind hands-on training center to those seeking a direct path between education and a profession.

While Jackson County education funds currently sit pretty, allowing the School Board to take on a self-funded project of this magnitude, local education leaders chose to wisely invest in the future of our community.

This will put Jackson County students on a level playing field with other systems. The idea started with a conversation between our supervisors and myself. When discussing career tech and workforce development, we decided that we needed to do something that would be a game-changer for Jackson County.” Kevin Dukes, Superintendent of Jackson County Schools

We want students to be prepared to be independent and self-sustaining citizens. But we can’t just wish that, we have to set those pieces in motion.

Career Center Groundbreaking

Over the past 5 years, the workforce has seen 120% growth in credentials earned with 81.9% of students in Alabama currently enrolled in Career Tech Education. Following suit, the School Board is focused on high-wage, high demand industries in each of the 16 career clusters that will be offered during the 2022/23 school year.

In attendance during the October groundbreaking – Mo brooks said, “this is where the jobs are going. Watching this package deal come together shows that we have the leadership necessary to have a long-term vision to help our youth thrive.”

State leadership presented the need for the entire Tennessee Valley to provide the skills for the workforce to fill the jobs that are projected to be in high demand. We will see more and more industries establishing themselves in surrounding counties, so having these facilities puts us in a competitive position that will attract the expansion that is projected to come.

So why is an Innovative Career Academy so vital to the future job opportunities for our children and workforce? In a 2016 MIT Technology Review by Kakaes, he poses the discussion why we can’t just “put the iPhone together in the US” we learn that parts made abroad would only cost about $30 to $40 more per phone. “A modest increase for a device with a 64 percent profit margin. Even if every part was made in the US, an iPhone would only cost about $100 more,” Kakaes concluded. Assuming raw materials were still purchased on global markets.

Sounds simple right? Just make the iPhone in America and we easily solve tariff issues and save domestic jobs, right?! No! It’s not that easy. “The issue is not so much cost of putting an iPhone together or even the cost per part on paper. The issue is a skill, scale, expertise, and infrastructure — all of which require money, time, and long-term investment.” It’s tempting to assume that the reason Apple assembles its phones in China is cost. Why aren’t iPhones built-in, say, Nicaragua, where labor is even less expensive? The answer is skill. Not just any skill, the skill to fill innovative Career Technology jobs.

If we want to bring product production back to America, we must provide our students with the exposure to learn, practice, and hone the high-tech skills that product producing industries are seeking.

In an accompanying article, Apple CEO Tim Cook says that he “needs a “rare” combination of craftsman-like skill, sophisticated robotics, and computer science. That combination is a system that’s been built over time in countries like China that have made the investment.

There’s a confusion about China,” Cook said. “The popular conception is that companies come to China because of low labor cost. I’m not sure what part of China they go to, but the truth is China stopped being the low labor-cost country many years ago. And that is not the reason to come to China from a supply point of view. The reason is because of the skill, and the quantity of skill in one location and the type of skill it is.”

As was stated during the groundbreaking – specialized technology is the new standard for education and “Jackson County’s newest Career Center puts students on a level playing field for scholarships and jobs that have never been available to them before,” said Dukes

Career Center Groundbreaking

If the community was polled today, how many parents and grandparents would vote to see their younger family members stay, live, work, play in our area? What if the development of this new Innovation and Career Academy is a contributing factor to keeping our kids invested in their home while honing innovative skills that stay in Jackson County?

For those who want to find solutions that keep our kids home, this is a huge opportunity!

What’s the tourism department doing to help? Between 2001 and 2019 traveler spending has increased 280% in Jackson County due to tourism improvement projects and promotion activities. Now reaching $70M in annual visitor spending, 1% goes directly into the County’s education budget. As the Jackson County Tourism Department continues to develop county-wide tourism projects – visitor travel & spending increase. As visitor spending increases, so too does the education funds available for our education leaders to continue to invest wisely in our students.

This is success!

The success of countless leaders coming together with a unified vision to better prepare our children for the modern world! So next time you hear of a tourism expansion project and wondering its impact, you can be sure that it will have a direct effect on future education enhancements.