Conco ready for PDCCC challenge

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

■ First in a series

FRANKLIN—Dr. Paul Conco, one of four finalists for the presidency of Paul D. Camp Community College, said the economy has placed community colleges in a challenging position: They’re serving more students with fewer resources.

However, Conco said he is willing to step up to the plate at PDCCC after Dr. Doug Boyce retires in a few months.

“Half of my job would be to learn about Paul D. Camp, and the other half would be to go out and tell the story,” he said during an open forum Monday afternoon at the college.

Conco, a Baltimore native, aspired to be a math teacher and was the first in his family to go to college. However, things didn’t pan out exactly as he envisioned.

“It was kind of hard because nobody told me the ropes about college,” he said. “After that first semester, I quit college and went home and looked for a job.”

He ended up taking a job in food service that led to management and owning his own business.

Conco’s career in food service led to teaching, and he eventually became the president of Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, S.C.

As he was working and building his career, Conco continued to take classes and earned associate, bachelor and master’s degrees, as well as a doctorate.

“The one I’m proudest of, the one that was hardest, the one I had to sacrifice the most for was that associate’s degree,” he said. “So needless to say, community colleges are special to me.”

Conco said his position at Johnson & Wales had a demanding travel schedule.

“I was away from home more than I was home,” he said.

After leaving Johnson & Wales, Conco served as executive vice president and a business professor at Campbellsville University, a Baptist college in Campbellsville, Ky.

“The college grew tremendously,” he said. Being in charge of everything from academics to facilities to athletics provided Conco with a “great range of experience.”

Campbellsville also gave Conco experience in higher education in a tough economy. While he was there, Fruit of the Loom closed a factory that was a major employer for the region.

He said the college immediately geared up workforce development and went to work trying to keep the region’s economy viable.

“It was hard work,” he said. But soon other companies moved in and the community recovered.

Conco said it is important to keep the community and the college thriving after International Paper Co. closes the Franklin mill next month.

“That’s a challenge I’m willing to take,” he said.

In 2001, Conco was named vice president for financial and administrative services at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon, the position he now holds.

Conco said his management style involves strategic planning and allowing all stakeholders to have a say in decisions.

“The process of strategic planning brings everybody to the table,” he said. “Everybody’s important. Everybody has an opinion, and it needs to be heard.”

Nothing is more important than being wise about how you handle resources and nothing is more important than people resources, Conco said, especially in challenging budget times.

Despite the budget challenges, Conco said it’s important to remember that “students come first.”

Conco was taken on a tour of PDCCC’s service area, the Franklin and Suffolk campuses and the college’s Smithfield center Monday.

“It’s just been a pleasure to be here,” he said.

Today, another finalist, Dr. Claudia Morris, will be interviewed for the presidency. An open forum will be held at the Workforce Development Center’s Technology Theater at 2:30 p.m.