"Culture of work" ethic drives long-term success in Lawrence County
They say you can’t argue with numbers, and Lawrence County is certainly proof of that.
The south-central Tennessee county has seen per capita income increase 35% and medium household income increase by more than 26% over the last decade.
The county also boasts one of the best high school graduation rates in Tennessee, and the labor force participation rate is the highest its been since the 1990s.
“What we’re doing is working,” says Ryan Egly, president and CEO of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s our ‘culture of work’ ethic.”
The county’s education and workforce development initiatives, which start in kindergarten, feature STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs for all ages and 12 hands-on industry certification programs, from cosmetology to construction, engineering to entrepreneurship.
A high school student, for example, can follow the health care track and become licensed as a certified nurse assistant (CNA) and log work experience before walking across the stage at graduation.
Thanks to a strategic partnership with the Ayers Foundation, college access counselors coach students into and through college.
“It really is a holistic workforce strategy that is very much grassroots,” says Egly, a Lawrenceburg native who grew up watching the changes take shape.
The transformation began in the mid-1980s, when Lawrence County leaders realized they needed new ways to recruit jobs by building a skilled workforce.
Over the years, the state’s first community-owned, two-year college, Columbia State Community College, doubled in size, began offering dual enrollment for high school students, and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology boosted its career and technical programs by adding four instructional service centers to help meet the labor needs of local businesses.
And the chamber worked to close the gap between high school and employment. If a job became available in the area, a correlating educational program was created to fill it.
An industry certification for remote work recently made its debut, and that community-owned college campus has moved to a new 40,000-square-foot building to make room for local four-year institutions as they offer bachelor’s degrees in Lawrence County for the first time.
The emphasis on training makes it easier to attract more businesses. “They come in and see that we’ve got the workforce,” Egly says. “And we know how to build it if they need it.”
Learn more about the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce.