Building North Carolina’s 21st-Century Workforce

By Jennifer Coulombe, Dean of Business & Industry at Forsyth Technical Community College
April 17, 2015

In recent years, the economy in North Carolina has experienced substantial fluctuation. Following the nation’s economic crash in 2008, the unemployment rate reached nearly 12 percent, and many manufacturing jobs began to leave the state. Thankfully, with the help of companies like Herbalife, those trends have begun to reverse.

Local workers – developing skills for the new economy
In the Triad region, the decline of the manufacturing sector had a substantial impact on much of the workforce, and a generation of workers was left behind without the technical training and education needed to keep up with the demands of a rapidly changing workplace. It was clear that we had to adapt and become more innovative in creating a workforce that attracted and matched the needs of business today.

Taking an active roll in attracting new employers to a region
To address the needs of our community, Forsyth Technical Community College launched a professional education and job-training program, and partnered with the local economic developer and other community and business leaders to help lure new businesses to the area. We were able to bring major industries back to North Carolina, and the revival of our local economy has been transformative.

The 2011 closure of the Dell facility in Winston-Salem and its subsequent rebirth as Herbalife’s flagship manufacturing facility is a prime example of this transformation. Over a decade ago the Dell computer company built a manufacturing plant in Winston-Salem, created hundreds of jobs, and was a major boost to the local economy. Unfortunately, Dell closed the plant only a few years later and moved its operation – and its jobs – overseas, a common tale in today’s manufacturing industry and a devastating blow to the Triad region.

Recruiting Herbalife to come into Winston-Salem and take over the facility was a real team effort. Our local economic developers, the Chamber of Commerce, local government officials and Forsyth Tech Community College all worked together to clearly articulate why our region was qualified to meet their manufacturing needs and why our labor supply was a unique value add.

Forsyth Tech Community College in partnership with Herbalife
Herbalife turned out to be a great fit. In addition to building a new manufacturing facility, the global nutrition company wanted to create one of the most technologically advanced, innovative and sophisticated nutraceutical plants in the world.

To better understand the company and the skills they required, our team visited an Herbalife manufacturing facility in Lake Forest, California. There they got to see firsthand the company’s commitment to safety and quality best practices, and above all, its unique focus on innovation.

We used this on-the-ground insight to build specific job profiles and understand the types of skills and training each position in the new Herbalife facility would require. We then built a customized training program and began working with students and displaced workers. Due to the professional education and job training program we developed, we were able to demonstrate that our local workforce had the technical skills and commitment to meet their needs.

Workers with the right skills, Herbalife with the best employees
Together, Herbalife and Forsyth Tech have forged a unique and tremendously productive partnership. To date we have trained and placed more than 250 workers at the new Herbalife plant. We anticipate more than 100 other roles will be filled in the near future. In addition to those who are embarking upon their first career, it’s exciting to see the number of people who are being retrained to get back into the workforce – given new hope and opportunities after a difficult few years.

In January, Herbalife executives invited our team to join them at the official opening of their facility. It was a special moment for all of us and we were grateful for the recognition of hard work and trust we put into making this transition such a success.

Today, Forsyth Technical Community College and all of our local partners are working to build a new model of partnerships with global companies like Herbalife. We are committed to helping prepare our community for the new economy and all of the exciting challenges and opportunities it presents.