Growth, a wise business professional once said, is never simply an accident—rather, it’s the result of forces working together. That’s certainly the case in Warren County, which has become one of the fastest-growing counties in Ohio.

While employers such as Luxottica Group, Cintas Corporation, Anthem and Kings Island have certainly been factors in the county’s growth efforts, another “force” has been at work as well: the Warren County Career Center (WCCC).

Based in Lebanon, the workforce development training center trains high schoolers and adult students in health careers, cosmetology, veterinary science, executive assistance, the graphic arts and other fields “in order to fuel the local business industry, and provide businesses with talented and knowledgeable workers,” reports the center’s website.

41 and counting

Now in its 41st year, the center has been experiencing some growth of its own of late.

It brought on a new superintendent, Rick Smith, this past June. A career-tech veteran, Smith was fresh off a successful seven years as superintendent at Springfield-Clark Career Technology Center in Springfield with the previous three years as assistant director at Tolles Career & Technical Center in Plain City. In all, Smith has 16 years of experience in career-technical education.

“I’m honored that the board chose me for this position,” says Smith. “Our board members are so student-focused, and they have the best interests of our students in mind. And the WCCC staff is very impressive, from top to bottom—they have our students in their heart.”

Despite his relatively short time at WCCC, Smith has already been able to put in place some exciting new programs.

One such program is the Business & Industry Leadership Discussions with Students (BILDS) program, which pairs up select students with community business and industry leaders over lunch to discuss what it takes to be successful in a career.

“I started this in Clark County, and found that the adult professionals really enjoy talking to students, and vice versa,” says Smith. “We started having one-on-one sessions with adults, then decided to invite adult professionals to lunch with students. Initially, we had six students and four adults take part, but by the last one we had 31 adults and 30 students participating. We had students who were on the fence with being professional, and some were just shy. It was great to see their growth, and how many of them love to talk to adult professionals.”

Smith hosts the monthly BILDS mentoring meetings, encouraging participation and an open dialogue, as well as any specific ideas that mentors would like for the students to consider in their future planning.

Those lunches, by the way, are held at another successful WCCC project—the student-run campus restaurant, administered entirely by its students. Part of Phase 2 of the center’s construction program put in place by Smith’s predecessor, Maggie Hess (who retired in 2016), the restaurant is complemented by a new lab for the WCCC’s culinary-arts program.

“We’re excited to be able to offer our restaurant’s services to our community,” says Smith.

In early October, the WCCC opened its new fire-safety training tower and burn facility, a first in Warren County. Situated on 4 acres of land on the center’s campus, the new facility will be used to deliver fire and EMS training to not only WCCC students but also area firefighters for their continued training and certification (as well as fire departments and law-enforcement agencies outside of the county).

Pursuing new paths, opportunities

“With [the county’s] growth, we have to ensure that we’re prepared to meet the needs of our community,” says Smith. “We want and need to stay relevant in our community.”

One example of how the WCCC is staying relevant is its continual review of its academic-offerings mix. “We have 400 members on our advisory committees for our career-tech programs, which allows us to stay up to date in each program. As a result, we’re able to tweak and update our programs on a yearly bass, based on experts in each particular field.”

In addition, the WCCC remains on the hunt for new programs to offer its students.

“Our advisory committees help us choose which paths to pursue. At this point, we’re looking at programs such as paramedic education, drone technology, expanding our offerings at Greentree Health Science Academy, and much more,” says Smith.

Adult education and integration with area industry is also high on Smith’s to-do list: “We can create programming to a company’s need—and we can deliver that programming on a company’s site, or do it here at WCCC,” says Smith. “We have great partnerships with the industries and companies in Warren County, and I’ve been reaching out to companies since coming on board earlier this year, so that they can get to know us and we can get to know them.”

Down the road, says Smith, it’s very likely the WCCC will have to physically grow to accommodate Warren County’s own continued growth.

“We have a master plan that includes adding additional space, but we are going to eventually need the community’s help in continuing to grow. We have done some additions and updating of our facilities ourselves, but at some point we’ll have to ask our community to help us finish our expansion. Warren County is growing—we’re going to have to grow, too,” he says.

Becoming a triple threat

When students pursue career tech at WCCC, says Smith, they garner a “triple-threat option.

“They can prepare themselves for college if they want to pursue further education, they can learn a skill that will prepare them for a great career in a field of their choosing, and they gain life skills they can use the rest of their lives.

“If a student is pursuing early childhood education here, for example, they’ll be learning skills that will not only make them better teachers, but also learn skills that will help them be better parents, improving their lives and the lives of others around them,” he points out.

Similarly, the WCCC itself also has multiple options in its future, says Smith, and its future—as well as Warren County’s—has never been brighter.

“I’m excited about all the future possibilities the WCCC will have in terms of growing in size and enrollment—and with that, growing opportunities we’ll provide to our community and students, both high school and adult,” he says. “Warren County is a great place to be, whether it’s providing educational opportunities or just living here.”

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