Obama touts educational partnerships as key to economic recovery during Forsyth visit

by Keith Barber

President Barack Obama laid out ambitious goals for America’s long-term economic recovery during his visit to Forsyth Tech’s West Campus in Winston-Salem on Monday.

Obama took the stage inside the school’s gymnasium around 12:30 p.m. after touring two biotechnology classrooms at the community college with college president Gary Green and Gov. Beverly Perdue.

“We’ve got to look ahead, not just to the next year, but to the next 10 years, the next 20 years, Obama said. “We’ve got to ask ourselves, ‘Where will the new jobs come from? What will it take to get them? What will it take to keep the American Dream alive for our children and our grandchildren?’” Obama praised the biotechnology program at Forsyth Tech, which offers high school graduates, dislocated workers, and returning students an opportunity to train in the cutting-edge fields of nanotechnology and biotechnology. The program began eight years ago with a handful of students. Now, the school estimates that more than 300 students have been enrolled in the program at one particular time.

Forsyth Tech has also established effective partnerships with the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine and private firms like Targacept to create internship opportunities for the students in its biotechnology program. The school estimates that more than 90 percent of graduates in the biotechnology program are currently employed as research and development lab technicians.

Obama held up Forsyth Tech — which is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this fall — as a model of how America’s education system can and must adapt to a rapidly changing world.

In the 21 st century, global competition is going to be increasingly fierce, and “the winners of this competition will be the countries that have the most educated workers, a serious commitment to research and technology, and access to quality infrastructure — roads, airports, high-speed rail and high-speed internet,” Obama said. “Those are the seeds of economic growth. Where they are planted, most jobs and businesses will take root.”

Obama said he came to Forsyth Tech because, “you’ve shown what this future can look like.”

Obama pointed out that North Carolina currently ranks as the nation’s third largest employer in biotechnology due in no small part to the role of community colleges like Forsyth Tech. The school has successfully made the transition from offering courses like auto mechanics 50 years ago to offering degrees in nanotechnology today, Obama said.

“These are the kinds of investments we need to be making in communities around the country — investments that will grow our economy and help us stay competitive in the 21 st century,” he added.

In the upcoming battle over the nation’s budget deficit, Obama vowed to fight for investments in community colleges like Forsyth Tech and “those investments that will help America win in the race for the jobs and the industries of the future.”

“We can’t stop making those investments,” Obama continued. “The best antidote to a growing deficit, by the way, is a growing economy.”

Obama compared the idea of cutting the deficit by cutting investments in education and innovation to “trying to reduce the weight of an overloaded aircraft by removing the engine.”

“That’s not a very good idea,” Obama said. America is now faced with its “Sputnik moment,” Obama said, referring to the Soviet Union’s successful launch of the first earthorbiting satellite that led to the Space Race of the 1960s.

“This is our moment,” Obama said. “We’ve got to rebuild on a new and stronger foundation for economic growth,” the president continued. “We need to do what America has always been known for — building, innovating, educating, making things.”

America has always been a world leader in education, innovation and technology, Obama said.

“If we want to attract the best jobs and businesses to our shore, we’ve got to be that nation again,” he added.