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Innovation in the Right Hands – Community Colleges’ Role in Taking US Economy to Next Level

By Sean Garretson, AICP.

There were only 20 Junior Colleges in the United States in 1920. During the 1930s and 1940s, this number grew rapidly, jumping to 322 Junior Colleges by 1949. Pegasus has had the pleasure of working with many community colleges in the United States with strategic planning, workforce training analysis and innovation.

Innovation should be in the hands of university researchers and businesses, right? Two community colleges that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, East West Virginia Community and Technical College (EWVCTC) and Amarillo College, have taken on the role of training their workforce to be entrepreneurial and adaptable to innovation and technology.

Several years ago, Pegasus teamed with colleagues from Point A Consulting (Steven Spalding and Dawn Riley) to provide a “Playbook for Stimulating Entrepreneurship” in East West Virginia. The client wasn’t the State of West Virginia or an economic development organization like a Chamber of Commerce. Instead, the client was the East West Virginia Community and Technical College whose president and innovation leader brainstormed this initiative. Our team worked with stakeholders in a five-county area of the Potomac Highlands to identify what areas made the most sense for EWVCTC to concentrate its innovation training programs. We identified Agriculture, Tourism and the Arts and helped the College create a Playbook for the Institute for Rural Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. The College has since implemented our recommendations and is already seeing the fruits of their labor.

More recently, Amarillo College hired Pegasus as part of a Master Planning effort for the College that was led by Parkhill, Smith and Cooper’s Amarillo office. As part of that study, Pegasus examined the feasibility of utilizing the downtown AC campus for an Innovation Hub – a focal point for small business and entrepreneurial training, education, and an anchor for both the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation’s new office and a hub for millennials in the downtown. The feasibility study also looked at industries for partnership and focused on training, aerospace and information technology as the primary areas to build a program around in the Innovation Hub. We assisted with a successful bid to the Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a large grant, followed by AC receiving voter approval for nearly all the other improvements in the downtown campus to create the Innovation Hub.

Community Colleges have evolved since their beginnings of focusing mostly on teacher training. While not a traditional role for a Community Colleges, Innovation has become a hallmark for Amarillo College and Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College. We expect this trend to continue among Community Colleges throughout the US.

Cohen and Brawer, The American Community College (4th ed. 2003) p 13-14

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