Velva Jenkins has dedicated her career to enhancing educational opportunities in Brunswick County. As an employee of Brunswick Community College (BCC) for 24 years, Jenkins has always had a love for teaching. Now, as the Assistant Vice President for Economic and Workforce Development for BCC, she has taken on the task of educating a community, not just a class.

BCC’s main campus is in Supply, the primary hub where students work toward a variety of degrees and certifications. BCC also operates an additional campus in Leland, a facility dedicated specifically to continuing education and workforce development. It’s here that Jenkins’ passion moves mountains for the benefit of the community.

The Leland campus of BCC, located in the Leland Industrial Park off Highway 74/76, was built in 1990 in response to a company’s needs. An inquiry by a Raleigh-based company interested in locating a site in Brunswick County spurred the county commissioners to think long-term. When the particular business asked BCC to manage its Brunswick County training center, an idea was born. A local workforce training center would make the area attractive to new and expanding businesses, in turn prompting economic development for Brunswick County.

“Not only does the Leland campus offer traditional associate degree courses and serve as the exclusive host to all BCC Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) classes, we also assume the responsibilities associated with being the area’s only Center for Economic and Workforce Development,” explains Jenkins. “Our primary goal is to partner with the Brunswick County Economic Development Commission and work closely with the business industry to promote future growth through educating the area’s workforce.”

The mission of the center is to provide “education and skill enhancement opportunities for new, expanding and existing businesses in the Cape Fear region.” To “support global economic competitiveness and to assist the community by providing a better quality of life, diversified employment sources, higher levels of income, and new job opportunities.”

In order to accomplish this mission, two categories of services are offered under one large, state-of-the-art roof.

For one, the center works with new and existing businesses to fine-tune operational strategies and effectively train new and existing employees. And, second, through trade-certified or degreed faculty, the center educates and certifies individuals interested in making a career change — a scenario that is all too common in this economy.

Businesses rely on the center to provide confidential consultant services, development or review of business plans, customized training programs for employees, and assistance in obtaining funding to support training initiatives, among many other services.

“We have worked with businesses that have capital improvements like new machinery or processes that need to update existing employees on how to operate them,” explains Jenkins. “This center is the hub for all of that. We’re responsible for developing customized training programs for all industries; providing the right skills and knowledge to employees to keep them qualified for current and new jobs.”

The campus is also utilized by businesses for meeting and function space. Due to the center’s proximity to existing industry, the airport, a major highway, the state port and rail, businesses have found great value in hosting training and meetings at the Leland facility.

The second area of services that the center offers is targeted to jobseekers. The campus offers a wide variety of demanded certification courses from writing to web design, painting to payroll — all of it to add value to one’s resume.

The most popular courses fall within the healthcare industry. For example, workers who have been laid off from jobs in manufacturing, a rapidly declining industry, are now seeking employment in medical coding and billing, pharmacy and nursing. HVAC is another popular course, as it has proven to be a position that the job market has continued to sustain.

“Earning certification at a community college is the best way to change your skill set and secure a new position quickly,” explains Jenkins. “A new degree may take two years. But with continuing education, you can earn certifications in less than six months.”

“It’s a very competitive market now with so many out of work,” says Jenkins. “Employers have a huge range of candidates to choose from, so having current industry- specific certifications is very important for jobseekers.”

The center works closely with the Employment Security Commission’s (ESC) JobLink program to find and train the employees that employers are looking for. But new jobs aren’t easy to come by in this economy, so BCC assists here too, stepping in to help businesses create jobs.

“The state provides funding to BCC so that we can help companies create jobs through custom training initiatives,” says Jenkins. “It’s our job to work with businesses to identify, and afford, new positions.”

Because of its critical role in creating a larger local workforce and better suiting candidates to qualify for local job opportunities, the center is a great asset to the community. BCC works diligently to provide these services, while forming alliances with state organizations to guarantee that all training and education is current, needed and effective.

“The State of North Carolina’s community college system has an economic and workforce development initiative that we collaborate with to ensure that we meet the needs of the business industry,” explains Jenkins.

It’s a big job to tackle. And the center gives continuous credit to its partnerships with regional and state agencies to make it all happen.

“Some of our strong partners on a state level are the N.C. community college system’s economic and workforce development team, the N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Biotech Center, N.C. Southeast Economic Development, N.C. State Ports, Brunswick County Schools, ESC JobLink, UNCW’s Small Business Technology and Development Center (SBTDC), the county government and the Cape Fear Council of Governments,” says Jenkins. “It’s these agencies that help us to ensure we are providing the right skill sets, services and programs. They’re our ears and our eyes when it comes to the needs of our region.”

Given the economy and BCC’s history of adding great value to businesses, the center and its services are in high demand. Last year, more than 8,000 students took courses at BCC’s Leland campus, choosing from more than 1,200 programs.

With high demand and usage comes a need to stay current. In October 2009, the Leland campus underwent a $600,000 renovation to update technologies and aesthetics. New classrooms, offices, a weight-training and shower area, a nursing lab and executive presentation room are just a few of the improvements that were completed this April.

These enhancements add to the exhaustive list of impressive, previously in-place features, including two computer labs with 14 stations each, a nearly 4,000-square- foot multi-purpose industrial training bay, a construction and electrical trades classroom and lab, a small conference room, an executive presentation room, meeting rooms and a distance learning room, all equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment.

BCC has always been a gem to the county and now the campus offers even more value to businesses and more hope to job seekers.

“I’ve been with BCC for a long time,” says Jenkins. “I have a love for this college. I get to see so many businesses changed, so many reaching their potential. And the open door policy gives a second chance to individuals that didn’t have that first chance in life. I’ve seen people turn around and change their lives to do good things in the community. There’s just so much opportunity here.”