New Neighbor, New Resource

Toccoa-Stephens County has an important new asset for education and economic development: the Currahee Campus of North Georgia Technical College.

The $9 million, 46,000-square-foot facility opened in July 2005 and already has more than 350 students. Enrollment has increased by 12 percent or more each quarter, and the building has the capacity for 600, says Sammy Howe, operations director of the Currahee campus. That doesn’t include continuing education or GED students, which would bring the number served up to about 1,000.

The campus also has met another community need, one that’s been a bit of a surprise. Its conference center has hosted high school proms, wedding receptions and Stephens County School System staff development meetings. People say the food is excellent, thanks to the chef who directs the culinary arts program.

“The new Currahee campus is truly a result of a caring community. Folks over there in that region saw the need for technical education closer to home,” says Ruth Nichols, president of North Georgia Technical College. “Ind-ustry is not interested in moving in unless they can be assured a prepared workforce.”

So the Stephens County Industrial Authority donated 25 acres in its Haystone-Brady Industrial Park for the school. The state purchased an additional 25 acres for future expansion potential. Thus, the new educational and training facility sits near some of the area’s leading employers just off Highway 17 on the east side of Toccoa.

“North Georgia Technical Col-lege was the benefactor. It is a beautiful state-of-the art facility,” Nichols says. “For economic development purposes, it’s going to be the entrance to the future of that area.” Already the school has played a key role in recruiting new industry to the area by training personnel for newly relocated companies via the Quick Start program.

The new campus was named Currahee for the region and the mountain and to highlight its mission of serving all the surrounding counties. “We planned very carefully to put some programs there that we did not have in other areas,” Nichols says. Drafting is offered exclusively at Currahee. Culinary arts is offered at Currahee and Blairsville. Currahee added a program in massage therapy to meet the needs of the area’s growing resort and tourism industry. The campus also offers nursing and allied health careers to support the Stephens County Hospital community.

Most students hail from Stephens or Franklin counties. But many come from Habersham and White counties for programs that aren’t offered at the college’s other two campuses in Clarkesville and Blairsville.

“These students are the ones that perhaps would never get a post-secondary education if it hadn’t been put closer to them. Those who thought they couldn’t afford the gas, now can,” Howe says. “We are fitting a need, and we’re giving them the education to develop our work force. For them to be successful after they leave is the most fulfilling thing we can hope for.”