September 3/10, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 6
By Steven Feldman
Cumming, Ga.—When the Mike & Lynn Cottrell Junior Achievement (JA) Discovery Center at North Georgia held its grand opening here Aug. 23, Engineered Floors was front and center within the space. The center, located on the high school campus of the Alliance Academy for Innovation of Cumming–Forsyth, will serve approximately 15,000 local middle school students from six counties, offering the opportunity for children to gain exposure to all types of businesses headquartered in the state.
This JA Discovery Center is the third of its kind. The first, JA Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center, opened in downtown Atlanta five years ago; the second, JA Discovery Center at Gwinnett in Gwinnett County, opened three years ago. This, however, will be the first hybrid facility in the state combining both JA BizTown and JA Finance Park, experiential simulations that have impacted more than 160,000 middle school students in the last three years.
JA BizTown creates an experience where students are able to interact within a simulated economy and take on the challenge of fueling a business. JA Finance Park provides students the rare opportunity to experience their personal financial futures first-hand. Students participate in a simulation that enables them to develop skills to navigate today’s complex economic environment.
“The JA Discovery Centers represent the incredible partnership of an entire community that comes together to make this work,” said Jack Harris, president and CEO, JA of Georgia. “We want this to be immersive, authentic and interactive. That’s how learning sticks. We are thrilled to be able to expand the impact of this relevant, authentic and experiential learning to more students across the state.”
Jeff Bearden, superintendent, Forsyth County Schools, noted the center will allow middle school students to explore career opportunities that perhaps they have never considered before and experience what their futures might hold. “The mindset is to expose students to the intricacies of the real world and create career pathway exposure that helps bring learning to life. The brands that sponsor the JA center provide authenticity and exposure that students will never forget.”
Engineered Floors chose to sponsor a “storefront” inside the center to not only teach students about carpet manufacturing but also about business. “When you train them in a direction toward business, you are training them in a direction toward accomplishment,” said Bob Shaw, founder and CEO, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We want them to be exposed to the opportunity that business provides and entrepreneurship. It’s about having the right attitude.”
Anna Adamson, a granddaughter of Shaw, is director of Northwest Georgia at JA Worldwide. She is charged with facilitating the involvement of local schools in JA programming and specifically with the Mike and Lynn Cottrell Discovery Center. “It was very important to the Cottrells to have manufacturing represented because of their background as manufacturers of automobile hauling equipment. And what better way to represent manufacturing in north Georgia than the carpet industry.” She added that the team partnered with local talent to build out the Engineered Floors space.
Jordan Bolch, executive director of innovation, RaceTrac, one of the Discovery Center sponsors, has witnessed the benefits after visiting the first two facilities. “I was blown away by the interaction and engagement. I think the students will take the knowledge they learn here and carry it with them the rest of their lives and be equipped with valuable tools. They learn things here they would otherwise not learn in a traditional school environment. That’s what makes JA so special.”
Dr. Bonita Jacobs, president of the University of North Georgia and another sponsor, said the Discovery Center provides “a great deal of flexibility for students with all kinds of career aspirations. It aligns with our mission to help develop students into leaders to live and work in a diverse global society.”
The launch of the third center was made possible with the support of Mike and Lynn Cottrell as well as partnerships with school systems and investment from businesses such as ADP, Andean Chevrolet, Associated Credit Union, City of Cumming, Delta Air Lines, Elavon, Engineered Floors, Georgia Power, Georgia State University, Georgia United Credit Union, MarketSource, North Georgia Community Foundation, Northside Hospital, Publix Super Markets Charities, RaceTrac, United Way of Hall County, United Way of Forsyth County and Zaxby’s. All businesses that invested have storefronts in the facility.