Gov. Roy Cooper visited the Lincoln County campus of Gaston College on Tuesday afternoon. Cooper has visited the Dallas campus on several occasions but he hasn’t been to the campus in Lincolnton yet.
“I know that Lincoln County is a largely rural area but it’s certainly primed right now for some outstanding economic development,” Cooper said to the attendees.“We know that community colleges play a crucial role in being able to get good paying jobs for people. I grew up working on a farm and I learned hard work, dedication and that I really wanted a job in air conditioning when I grew up. Today reminds me of one of those days out in the tobacco field. I also got my values at home of making sure that we looked after each other in the community.”
Cooper’s mother was a public school teacher and he said that he knows the value of education and the central role that community colleges play in the community, especially in the more rural areas.
“We get a lot of news coverage about the differences that we have in Raleigh over issues, and there are some, but we’ve also been able to work together on a number of things such as economic incentives of the right kind to draw new businesses to the area,” he said. “We’re working hard on transportation and we’ve also come to an agreement that we would have, as a goal, two million more adult North Carolinians in the next decade earning a post-secondary degree or credential. We know that’s going to be critical because my CEO mission statement for the state is I want a North Carolina where people are better educated, healthier and have more money in their pockets and have opportunities to live lives of purpose and abundance.”
Back in Raleigh, Cooper said that budget negotiations are ongoing, to some extent. Instead of additional corporate tax cuts, Cooper wants to invest more in education which includes a 4 percent increase in salaries for community college employees, compared to the 2 percent proposed by the general assembly, increases in salaries for public school teachers, non-certified school staff and a statewide bond initiative not only for public schools but additional help for community college and universities.
“As I go across the country and even talk to CEOs across the world, I talk about North Carolina being the greatest state in this country,” he said. “We have an amazing quality of life. We have good infrastructure and a strong business environment but the number one issue that CEOs tell me today that they care about, is the workforce. Do you have the people who can perform the jobs that I create? Community colleges are going to be the focal point over the next few years. Already, the bang for the buck we get from community colleges is astronomical. You are helping to provide the training that they need.”
Cooper toured various classrooms and labs in both the Lincoln Classroom Building and the Cochrane Science & Technology Building.
“We really want to get people the education they need to get better paying jobs and our community colleges are going to be the central focus of that, so I’m pleased to be here and support it,” Cooper said to Times-News after the tour. “As I take these tours, I think about how people’s lives can be improved with an additional degree or credential they can get from a community college. I also think about how fast technology is moving and the different kinds of jobs that are coming available. We know that community colleges work closely with employers to make sure that they’re providing people with the knowledge they need.”
Cooper added that he’s been pushing hard for more scholarships for community colleges to be given to people who are willing to go into high demand fields such as nursing.
“We ought to be offering scholarships to entice people to take those kinds of courses and get those kinds of jobs,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get the general assembly to move on that but I’m going to keep working.”
In budget negotiations, Cooper said that he continues to press the general assembly to invest more in education instead of continuing to cut the corporate tax.
“We need to get negotiating, the speaker is continuing to try to override my veto instead of negotiating with us,” he said. “What I’ve told him is ‘you’ve been trying a month, you don’t have the votes, I think the people of North Carolina want us to sit down and try to find some consensus.’ We’re doing some back-channel negotiations and I’m hoping in the next few weeks we can get to the end of the road and get a good budget.”
A fundraiser was held for Cooper later in the day at the Lincoln Country Club hosted by the Lincoln County NC Democratic Party.