From Textiles to Tech: How Rural South Carolina Trains Students for New Industry

Anderson County school districts and local industry are collaborating to educate and train its next generation workforce for an evolving economy.

Anderson County sits in South Carolina’s Upstate, bordering Georgia to the west and just a stone’s throw from North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains to the north. For more than 100 years, textiles were king in Anderson County, dominating the economy from just after Reconstruction through the end of the 20th century.

But as textiles manufacturers started moving their operations overseas in the 1990s, Anderson County leaders quickly moved to maintain jobs by attracting other industries. Now, everything from surgical appliances to automotive parts are devised in Anderson — by companies like Arthrex, Bosch and Michelin.

Anderson Institute of Technology opened in 2019 as a collaboration between three of five Anderson County, S.C. school districts and local industry. It provides cutting-edge career and technical education to students from four high schools across Anderson Districts 3, 4 and 5, in hopes that those students will get real-world experience early on in their educational careers to be prepared for jobs in Anderson County industries — if that’s the route they choose.

The $34 million, 120,000-square-foot facility was funded by a voter-approved penny sales tax increase in 2014. Now, students who partake in AIT programs split their days between their home high schools and AIT, and earn credit towards graduation. Student learning at AIT is two-fold: half of their “classrooms” look traditional, and are set with tables and chairs, where the students learn core concepts that apply to their hands-on work. The other half is a “lab” that mimics a real-world work environment — like an automotive garage, aerospace engineering lab or surgery room.

“It’s all about giving kids a purpose in life,” said Don Herriott, a local business owner. “That education isn’t just about progressing to the next grade. It’s about preparing for your life and your future.”

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