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August 2003
Catering To The Job Market
By Susanne Deitzel

     Arthur Gallagher has a front row seat to the combination of a dynamic, growing university with an equally dynamic and growing city in a recipe for mutual advantage and success. From his desk as president of Johnson & Wales University’s new Charlotte campus, he is witness to the very creation of the school itself – the construction of a 145,000-square-foot academic center/culinary arts facility and residence halls – and already, the increasingly frequent foot traffic in Gateway Village on West Trade Street.

      As he watches, Gallagher smiles confidently, apparently undaunted by the task that lies ahead. By its opening in September 2004, the University will host roughly 900 students in the heart of downtown. By 2005, that number will double. Charlotte business and government leaders expect that Johnson & Wales will attract $60 million in annual revenue to Charlotte once it reaches maximum capacity of 3,000 students in 2007. In fact, this simmering pot is already being sweetened with a privatized investment of $40 million, which will be used primarily for housing returning J&W students in the fall of 2005.

 

A Commitment to Specialized Business Education

     Johnson & Wales University was founded as a business school in 1914

in Providence, Rhode Island, by Gertrude I. Johnson and Mary T. Wales. From its origins as a school devoted to business education, Johnson & Wales grew first into a junior college, then into a senior college, and ultimately gained university status. In 1993, Johnson & Wales received regional accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

    Over the years, the University has branched out considerably, establishing campuses in Charleston, S.C.; Norfolk, Va.; North Miami, Fla.; Denver, Colo.; and now Charlotte, N.C.; as well as an international presence in Gothenburg, Sweden.

     The University has become so well established because of its strong commitment to specialized business education and focus on career participation. “‘Learning by Doing,’” affirms Gallagher. “We are an urban educator with an intense commitment to business at our core. We are distinguished by powerful and deliberate relationships with community employers who provide the means to educate our students with practical experience before graduation. By the same means, we provide local employers with our driven, talented and experienced alums for recruiting into their organizations.”

     These business relationships are the centerpiece of the University. For example, by each student’s sophomore year, they are guaranteed practical, hands-on work experience in their chosen major. They will have the opportunity to receive two degrees (an associate and fully-accredited bachelor’s) in four years, and are required to participate in co-ops, internships and externships. As Gallagher phrases it, “J&W graduates are ready to work from day one.”

     Over the past ninety years, J&W has established itself as a first-rate culinary arts and hospitality school with such illustrious alums as Emeril Lagasse and Tyler Florence of TV Food Network. Gallagher laughs, “The first question I usually get is “Will you be offering cooking classes that an everyday person could understand?,” with “Will you be having food samplings?” running a close second. The relocation of the culinary school will be an especial blow to Charleston, which lost the campus once Charlotte city managers came courting. But, says Gallagher, “Just like Charleston, we are hoping that someday it will be impossible to find a bad meal in Charlotte.”

 

The Queen Comes A’ Courtin’

    Johnson & Wales’ decision earlier this year to consolidate its southeastern U.S. presence in Charlotte, moving its smaller Charleston, S.C., and Norfolk, Va., campuses to Charlotte by 2006, was certainly high profile. The Queen City’s political maneuvering to get face time with J&W reached near mythical proportions: Reportedly, J&W was on the way to sign a deal in Charleston to acquire a hospital when Charlotte leaders convinced University representatives to make a side trip from the Charlotte Douglas Airport to make their pitch.

     “I tell you, when Charlotte wants to get something accomplished, very little can get in its way,” Gallagher nods. “Center City Partners – including members involved with BellSouth and The Charlotte Observer – was instrumental in laying the framework for discussions. The Charlotte Chamber, Compass Group, Bank of America, plus the city and state governments gave us such generous incentives, the deal was instantly attractive.”

     Bank of America reportedly offered two tracts of land, including one being used for the academic center, and offered leases in Gateway Village for very attractive rates. The food service giant, Compass Group, contributed $2 million dollars, and the city of Charlotte offered a tract of land for the residence halls valued at close to $7 million dollars for $1 million. The state of North Carolina agreed to grant Johnson & Wales $10 million dollars over a five-year period, as an incentive to locate their $82 million campus in downtown Charlotte.

     Gallagher comments, “These commitments, plus the chance to expand, drove the decision to move J&W from Charleston. We needed to grow and there just wasn’t enough room in Charleston for us to do that.” He adds, “Fortunately, we still have a very friendly relationship with, and sound presence in, Charleston.”

      Johnson & Wales expects that they will invest approximately $82 million over three years for the Charlotte campus. This investment includes capital expenditures earmarked for new construction and leasehold improvements, including the academic center and residence halls, as well as a library, bookstore, and Career Development, Student Services and Alumni Relations centers.

     In addition to the immediate economic impact of this investment, the increased traffic to the once neglected Trade Street District is already in evidence. Permits dot storefronts the length of Trade and Cedar Streets, auguring the opening of trendy cafes, wine bars and restaurants. “You cannot underestimate the impact of 3,000 students and 250 employees to the economic outlook for Charlotte,” Gallagher points out. “Count on more pizza parlors, increased nightlife, and more incentives for folks to come into the city from the suburbs.”

    Gallagher says that student clubs, activities and intercollegiate sports will also contribute to a humming Center City. “Although,” he smiles, “don’t look for us to be ranking up there with Duke or State in basketball anytime soon.”

    J&W’s contribution to the economic health of a community is convincing. For 25 years now, 98 percent of all J&W students have been placed within 90 days of graduation. A full 30 percent of graduates choose to stay in the region of their campus. Remarks Gallagher, “This works to stabilize the workforce by keeping talented human resources and their subsequent economic activity contributing to the core of Charlotte business.”

 

The Mix of Education and Experience

     With a commitment to an educational process tied directly to the needs of the job market, J&W touts itself as “America’s Career University®,” equally focused on the needs of its students and employers. As an urban educator, J&W urges its students to “Live, Work, and Play in the City.” Gallagher says all activities are focused to engender positive, reciprocal relationships between the school, students, and business community. This is what he considers to be his most important challenge.

     “My job is to lead faculty and students into a fully-integrated citizenship model. By providing a venue for our students to get the necessary experience, businesses experience the special, motivated and talented nature of our students. By incorporating local business leaders into our faculty, our students get the value of firsthand knowledge in their discipline. Our students have the opportunity to be employed (nearly 80 percent of students system wide earn 50 percent of their tuition via work relationships) plus they receive academic credit. Businesses get an increasingly valuable talent pool, and do so affordably.”

    Gallagher adds, “Civic mindedness

is also a large component of this practice. J&W has a Community Service Learning requirement for our students. This engenders an appreciation for the community in the students, while bestowing the obvious societal benefits of volunteerism. Plus, it is a very practical way to make contacts, get involved, and provide choices for both the graduate’s future and the future of the community.”

     Another way the school developed its outstanding reputation for hands-on experience and serving the public is through the acquisition and management of  “practicum” facilities, which are owned and operated by the University. These facilities, which differ by campus and by major, include such establishments and operations as hotels, restaurants, banquet facilities, student dining centers, a retail bakery, a travel agency, the University's Culinary Archives and Museum, a women's retail store, a horse farm utilized by equine majors, and an information booth at an airport. All students receive academic credit for term. Gallagher says that practicum facilities are currently being negotiated for the Charlotte campus, and is very optimistic about the future potential.

     Other relationships, like J&W’s covenant agreement with Marriott International, provide a self-sustaining rotation of education and recruiting. Explains Gallagher, “Marriott and Johnson & Wales have developed a very special partnership over the years. J&W is the number one source of Marriott recruits for hospitality including Marriott Courtyard, Ritz-Carlton, resorts, vacation clubs and its food service branch. Marriott provides J&W with a wealth of knowledge for teaching and training our students, and the venue to do so.”

     He adds, “Charlotte’s Compass Group has reached a similar degree of partnership with us, and we look forward to working on this monumental step together.” Gallagher says Compass Group’s $2 million donation was an investment in the partnership and a grounding move to cementing the relationship. However Gallagher stipulates, “These contributions are not by any means quid pro quo. Our partnership agreements are very dynamic and individual agreements to formalize a means to an end: to provide quality education and promote a strong, mutually agreeable culture between J&W and our covenant partners.”

 

Ingredients for Success

     Gallagher’s vision for J&W’s future, and the future of Charlotte, is uncompromising. The seeds for a large capital fundraising campaign have been planted, and Gallagher is intent on getting the Johnson & Wales message out to the masses. “When we made the decision to come to Charlotte, it was obvious that it met our ‘Best Fit’ standards for a J&W campus. The energy, commitment and opportunity the city of Charlotte has demonstrated epitomizes the J&W ethos. The business models were complementary and highly efficient. And, we know in Charlotte that we can generate economic activity and community development by embarking on strategic relationship building.”

      He continues, “It is essential that employers and faculty candidates see the benefits of a J&W relationship, and that is part of my job. To quote the theory of my favorite book right now, ‘If you get the right people on the bus, and then get the people in the right seats on that bus, the vehicle will operate efficiently.’ My challenge is to fill J&W’s seats with the right passengers.” He says faculty will be comprised of local educators, as well as recruits relocated from J&W’s current Norfolk and Charleston campuses.

    The University is also at no loss for suitable business partners. The banking industry makes a strong case for a future school of technology. NASCAR and the likelihood of a new basketball arena provide perfect outlets for event management. And Charlotte’s plethora of dining establishments would be ideal candidates for a J&W connection. Gallagher adds, “The leadership of Charlotte YMCAs and the United Way also provide a strong civic base, and the emergence of cultural activity by the ASC in Charlotte is profound.”

     Charlotte is visibly enthusiastic about the partnership. J&W’s groundbreaking was well attended by Mayor Pat McCrory, Jim Palermo of Bank of America, and Gary Green of Compass Group. Governor Mike Easley presented the keynote address. J&W has also received a street with its own moniker: “Johnson and Wales Way;” the connecting street between Fourth and Trade.

     Gallagher is nothing but optimistic about the future of J&W and Center City Charlotte. Despite high unemployment rates, and the shaky hospitality/tourism industry of post Sept. 11, he believes strongly in Johnson & Wales’ mission and that Charlotte’s great expectations will be met. “We are part of a larger vision for Charlotte’s future, and we are fully dedicated to the Charlotte community and to its inevitable success.”

Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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