Second-graders are using egg-sized robots to learn computer coding theory. High school students are earning professional and technical certifications in high demand by local employers. Still others are building model bridges to gain hands-on learning in engineering, and designing LED-illuminated uniforms for Olympic athletes.
It's all happening in Manatee County's K-12 public schools, but you may not have heard about it. I saw these marvels and more during a recent tour of Braden River Elementary and Braden River High School with Doug Wagner, director of Manatee County Schools' Adult, Career and Technical Education.
I was astonished by the advanced learning that passionate teachers are delivering to eager and engaged students. The experience underscored a major asset for Manatee County's economic future as we work to recruit and retain high-wage jobs to diversify the local economy.
At the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. we lead efforts to diversify Manatee County's economy by helping local businesses expand and by recruiting new business relocations. We target companies that operate in high-growth industries, provide high-wage jobs, and sell their goods and services outside the local market.
The companies we work with are unanimous in wanting -- and needing -- excellent K-12 and technical education. They want -- and need -- ready-to-work, skilled employees with strong work ethics and inquiring minds. For that reason, Manatee County schools are vital to developing the workforce of the future.
Fortunately, Manatee County schools are doing many things right. Compared with Florida as a whole, our schools have a higher composite ACT score.
Student competitors representing Manatee County schools captured more top-10 finishes than any other school district in the nation during the 2015 National Technology Student Association Conference held in Grapevine, Texas.
Employers are grabbing up graduates of MTC programs in a variety of fields. For 10 years in a row, Manatee Technical College students won the most individual student medals in the SkillsUSA National Championships, competing against schools, technical centers and
What can we do better?
The EDC has launched a multi-year strategy to grow and retain jobs in Manatee County.
Several initiatives focus on K-12 and technical education, such as:
Explore ways to develop and retain Information Technology talent.
Design an entrepreneurship program for middle-school students.
Convene educational leadership in the county and region periodically to improve collaboration among institutions, then fostering initiatives to improve workforce education and training.
One of the most critical recommendations in the EDC's strategy is to showcase the positive aspects of Manatee County's education system through more proactive public information and an improved website for Manatee County schools.
Providing better information about world-class education available in Manatee County is vital to retaining and recruiting the types of companies that communities nationwide are seeking to land.
Great things are happening in our schools. Let's spread the word.
Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., may be contacted at email@example.com or 803-9036.