More than 50 years ago, the state of South Carolina was in crisis with talented people leaving, looking for alternatives to the state’s dependence on agriculture and textiles.

Those concerns led to the establishment of post-secondary technical education, said Dr. Darrel Staat, president of the S.C. Technical College System, at an Aiken Rotary Club meeting Monday.

“Many people were leaving in droves, wanting more,” he said. “In order to keep the people in the state, the leaders of South Carolina looked to attract industry.”

The state and counties took key roles in major economic development, bringing in over the years such companies as General Electronic, Bridgestone, Continental and, more recently, Boeing.

“Our system was founded on accessibility,” said Staat. “We’re comprised of 16 community and technical colleges. They are strategically located, with every South Carolinian living within 30 minutes of the colleges or of 43 satellite campuses.”

Aiken Technical College celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor said during an address at the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce First Friday breakfast. During that period, ATC has brought 217,000 students to its campus.

Manufacturing is a rapidly-growing sector, said Winsor, such as Bridgestone’s expansion in Graniteville.

“We offer a wide variety of technical areas, responding to workforce needs,” she said.

Staat cited the productivity two statewide programs that enhance workforce development in working with all 16 campuses. ReadySC is administered through the state technical system and its Center for Accelerated Technology Training.

“It’s a flagship program for our system, a top incentive,” Staat said. “Eighty-five percent of new companies rank the availability of readySC as playing a significant role or determining factor in their decisions to relocate.”

Apprenticeship Carolina, established in 2007, works to ensure all employers with the opportunity to train prospective employees.

Aiken Technical College’s efforts in providing new opportunities in the nuclear field is giving students new opportunities and a critical supply of trained employees, Winsor said.

“Our radiation protection technology program is the only one in the U.S. that provides the Department of Energy and utilities with certified employees,” she said. “Our graduates across the nation are working in facilities, and we’re proud of that.”