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Candidate commentary

Orr: Pima College is crucial to regional economy, community

Pima Community College is crucial to our region in terms of workforce development, economic development and community development. Having been a leader in all three areas in Southern Arizona for over 24 years, I understand the interplay between the three and the vital role that PCC plays.

A well-trained workforce is one of the keys to business recruitment and expansion. Successful businesses expand our regional tax base and create employment opportunities for individuals. Increased employment and revenue allows our community to invest into itself, expanding the arts and culture, creating revenue for better parks and roads, further improving our education opportunities and thus creating a virtuous cycle of community improvement and increased opportunity.

I was the the executive director of Linkages, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with disabilities find meaningful employment, for 10 and half years. In that position I gained an understanding that a purposeful life and being able to contribute to our community leads to self-worth and a sense of inherent value. The National Institutes of Mental Health determined that the cost of care is reduced by over 25% for people with a severe mental illness when they find a job and are employed. By partnering with the business community and expanding certificates and programs based on industry skills, Pima College can increase the employability and earning potential of individuals.

Additionally, by aligning curriculum with industry needs, educational institutions in Arizona can generate $7.6 billion in economic growth (Achieve 60).

I was the director of Economic and Community Development for the city of South Tucson and the empowerment zone administrator for the city of Tucson. I helped our local businesses grow and recruited new businesses to our community. In both cases a well-trained workforce was the vital lynchpin in economic growth. When I was recruiting new companies to Tucson, the number one question I was asked was about the quality of our workforce. Pima Community College is the key to a well-trained workforce.

There are two primary tracks that we should be developing for our Pima Community College students.

The first focuses on career and technical education, creating industry relevant competency-based certificates that can make a student immediately employable and can also be used as a stackable credit towards an Associates Degree. These programs can partner with the Pima County JTED to recruit high school students, and with the Workforce Investment Board to attract adult learners. Additionally, we should allow adult learners without a high school diploma to complete GED coursework concurrently with vocational training programs.

The second pathway focuses on students who want to obtain a four-year degree. We can support these students by expanding dual enrollment programs, increasing counseling support, partnering with successful financial aide programs such as Earn to Learn, and creating clearly defined job centric degree pathways.

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I currently work for the University of Arizona, and part of my job is finding ways to create a seamless transition for students from Pima Community College into a four-year program.

In addition, I have been a faculty member at the UA and Pima Community College for over 20 years, and I know what helps students succeed in the classroom and in the workforce.

Improved student success will lead to better careers, increased business recruitment and more job opportunities, and ultimately a more prosperous community. Pima Community College truly is a gateway of hope for our students and our community.

Ethan Orr is a candidate for Pima Community College Governing Board, District 1


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