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CHEROKEE, Iowa -- Eighteen-year-old Trey Claycamp of Cherokee is receiving a financial leg-up in his career goal of becoming an electrician.

Claycamp has enrolled in "Cherokee County Promise," an incentive program for students at the Western Iowa Tech Community College campus in Cherokee.

The program covers the cost of tuition and fees after financial aid has been applied for residents of Cherokee County enrolling in programs offered through the WITCC campus in Cherokee. In exchange for the financial assistance, students commit to working and living in Cherokee County for three years after they graduate. 

Students are responsible for their own books and living costs. They must be enrolled in a minimum of nine credit hours. They are required to sign a commitment letter to the Cherokee County program.

"It's really great having the financial assistance from the businesses in Cherokee. I was actually planning on staying around here anyway," Claycamp said.  He is studying in the electrical program.

"I like being hands-on and problem solving, trouble shooting, " he said when asked why he selected this career.

Last fall Claycamp started a small business, Trey's Tree Mulching. He goes to farm pastures and removes unwanted cedar trees. 

The Cherokee County Promise is funded through business and industry in the county, according to Darla Struck, director of the Cherokee campus. It serves students taking classes on campus or online.

"It is going great. We started last fall and our first class, we served 13 students with slightly over $20,000 in aid going to those students. And then this spring we increased that to 16 students with nearly $30,000," Struck said.

The Promise is hoping to fight the so-called brain drain.

"That was one of our missions, to keep youth here and provide them with an educational opportunity. However, with that said, this is not only for high school graduates. This could also be someone who has been in a position for 20 years and has now decided I want to do more with my life and further my education. That adult can also take part," Struck said. 

According to Iowa Workforce Development, Cherokee County is projected to lose 14 percent of its workforce in the next decade; the major culprits being an aging population and the out-migration of young professionals. The projections for 2028 include 1,000 fewer workers between the ages of 20 and 64. The 20-24 age range will decrease 23 percent, according to WITCC. The available workforce between the ages of 25 and 29 is expected to drop 31 percent. Struck said Promise students are enrolled in health career fields, technical, welding and construction.

Programs such as this are on the state of Iowa's radar. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the Future Ready Iowa initiative earlier this year to prepare Iowa's talent to fill high-demand jobs. Future Ready Iowa is slated to help pay tuition and fees at community colleges starting in the fall of 2019. 

The funding partners have agreed to accommodations for students seeking a four-year degree.

Struck said those students can finish their studies at WITCC, then attend a four-year institution, returning to Cherokee County to live and work after receiving their bachelor's degree. The two-year window will permit students in education, accounting and business to take part in the program and return to Cherokee County to fill voids in all workforce needs.

Claycamp, a graduate of Cherokee Washington High School, said he learned about the program from Dr. Struck. "It's a very smooth process (to enroll) and Darla helps you out a lot," Claycamp said.

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