JOBS for AMERICA'S GRADUATES

Cox CEO Gets National Award for Helping Students Prep for Work

An Orangeburg manufacturing leader on Wednesday received national recognition for his commitment to helping the state’s high school students prepare for success in the workplace.

Mikee Johnson, chief executive officer of Orangeburg-based Cox Industries Inc. and South Carolina Workforce Investment Board chairman, was selected as the winner of the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG)-National Workforce Development Leadership Award.

Johnson accepted the award on behalf of the 31-member SCWIB during a ceremony at the Russell Senate Office building in Washington. The SCWIB is responsible for overseeing the federally funded job-training programs offered at more than 50 S.C. Works Centers across the state.

“The program produces some of the most meaningful results I have seen in any such program and I was flattered to be recognized,” Johnson said in receiving the award.

JAG is a non-profit training program of the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce that focuses on high school dropout prevention, academic success and career-readiness skills.

There are 31 states in the national JAG program and each state could submit one nominee. Johnson was nominated by Elaine Midkiff, the state director of the JAG program.

According to the nomination form, Johnson qualified for the award because of his leadership role in workforce development on the state level.

Midkiff noted that since JAG-SC’s inception eight years ago, SCWIB has “assumed the leading role in funding its program operations, investing approximately $8 million to sustain and grow the state organization.”

“As chairman of the board, Mikee has built strategic alliances with educators, employers, labor and government to influence state workforce policy and to advance JAG-SC,” the nomination form states. “He has been an engaged leader, taking an active role in the SCWIB’s initiatives, to include JAG-SC, since his appointment as chair. His tireless leadership and personal commitment to the challenges inherent in the state’s workforce development initiatives is to be commended.”

“Our state’s JAG students and career specialists have reaped untold benefits because of Mr. Johnson’s leadership and overall commitment to building a world-class, competitive workforce,” said SCDEW Executive Director Cheryl M. Stanton, who also attended the ceremony.

Currently in its ninth year, JAG has served more than 7,000 students.

For those that are part of JAG, graduation rates in 2012 (the most recent data) were 95 percent. The level has increased from 94 percent in 2011 and 93 percent in 2010.

In 2012, about 91 percent of graduates attended college, enlisted in the military or accepted full or part-time job positions, an outcome that is well above the JAG organization’s national standard of 80 percent.

Johnson says the success of the program goes beyond him and goes back to the willingness on the part of SCWIB to financially support JAG.

“With an annual investment of roughly $800,000, the decision is not a light one, but the compelling graduation rates and post-high school success are overwhelming,” Johnson said.

Johnson also credits Midkiff with championing the program ever since former Gov. Mark Sanford introduced it to the state.

“When you see the national unemployment rate at 7.3 percent and South Carolina fast closing the gap (7.9 percent), it is hard to be anything but encouraged,” Johnson said. “I always marvel at the hard-working family at the Department of Employment and Workforce who essentially work themselves out of job with every drop in the unemployment rate.”

An Orangeburg native, Johnson graduated from Furman University, where he received his bachelor of arts in political science and English. He studied in northern Europe and the Baltic region. He most recently earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Carolina, Darla Moore School of Business.

After college and prior to his involvement with Cox, Johnson began his career with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Inc.

Johnson has served in leadership positions with the South Carolina Family Business Forum, the Downtown Orangeburg Revitalization Association, Habitat for Humanity and the March of Dimes.