With most of the manufacturing jobs of yore long gone, the two biggest employers in this area are the educational system and the greater Northern Hospital family.
Like the hospital’s many affiliated offices, the two school districts have several locations and employ hundreds both inside and outside classrooms.
Surry County Schools has 18 traditional campuses and operates the Surry Early College on the campus of Surry Community College. Mount Airy City Schools operates four campuses. On the southern end of the county, Elkin City Schools adds another central office and three more schools.
The county system employs more than 1,200 people, while the city schools employ 224.
While the public readily thinks of schools having teachers and teaching assistants, those two jobs only make up about half the workforce.
Surry County Schools has more than 600 certified educators. This includes 588 teachers, 19 principals and 20 assistant principals. Mount Airy schools has 141 certified positions and 24 teaching assistants.
What about support staff?
Surry County’s system has 143 teaching assistants, 27 school secretaries, 20 school counselors and three social workers.
There is more specialized help, too, like 10 school nurses, nine speech pathologists, one physical therapist and one occupational therapist. The central office employs 42 people, including the superintendent and three assistant superintendents.
Still, it takes a lot more than teachers and office personnel to run a school.
The county district says it has 100 people working in its cafeterias, 97 driving buses, 45 1/2 positions for custodians, 18 people in maintenance, 17 data managers, 11 after-school child care providers, five technicians and 13 people in transportation (including the bus garage that maintains and inspects the vehicles).
“Very few of our employees drive from other areas to work in Mount Airy,” said Carrie Venable, public information officer for the city school system. “Our employees, eat, live, work, and play in MACS, which is wonderful ripple for local economy.”
Not only do the school systems provide direct employment, but many other businesses profit indirectly from having schools in their areas.
Traffic driving to and from the schools can stop for gas and snacks at convenience stores. Lawn services take care of landscaping the grounds. Schools have contracts with outside companies for snow removal in the winter time.
Venable said there are a number of local companies utilized. They provide services like cleaning the exteriors of buildings, sidewalks and the tennis courts. There are quarterly pest-control services used.
The school districts have ongoing capital improvements and hire engineers to plan out work. Then contractors perform work like roofing, HVAC repairs, painting, structural renovations and parking lot paving.
“Our partnership with Mount Airy Parks and Recreation is huge,” said Venable.
“We provide many of our facilities to MAPR for sports. They utilize basketball courts, baseball/softball fields, and we utilize the swimming pool at Reeves (Community Center) for our swim teams. Without sharing facilities the children in this area would have a much smaller number of opportunities to participate in the variety of sports offered within the school system and through MAPR.”