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McDonnell seeks $750K in state funds for NCI

Thursday, January 24, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed that the New College Institute (NCI) receive $750,000 in state funds toward the purchase of advance manufacturing equipment for its planned new building uptown.

The money is part of Executive Amendment 59, which McDonnell added to proposed budget amendments that the General Assembly will consider in its current session, according to Jeff Caldwell, the governor’s press secretary.

NCI Executive Director William Wampler is not getting his hopes up too high because lawmakers will be considering many funding requests.

Funded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, NCI is a higher education institution in uptown Martinsville that provides local access to certain degree programs offered by universities statewide. The programs basically are ones needed to prepare people for jobs now available locally and which employers have a hard time filling, as well as ones anticipated to help improve the local economy in the future.

Site preparation work is under way on the Dana O. Baldwin Block uptown where NCI will construct a three-story, 50,000 square-foot building. It will house academic programs being developed in advanced manufacturing, entrepreneurism and health care.

Construction is estimated to cost $15 million. Of that amount, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission is giving $5 million, and The Harvest Foundation has pledged up to $8 million.

NCI plans to raise the other $2 million privately. Wampler said McDonnell’s allocation — if it is received — would not affect fundraising efforts.

The institute is developing advanced manufacturing programs designed to provide students high-level skills in science, math and critical thinking and using computer technology. Those are skills that economic developers say people must have to work for companies that are heavily reliant on technology.

In August, NCI launched the Academy for Engineering Technology in which more than 30 high school students are enrolled, but the curriculum still is in development.

NCI also is working with VIrginia State University to bring the university’s advanced manufacturing degree programs to Martinsville.

Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) is working with NCI to encourage students to enroll in the advanced manufacturing programs and develop a seamless transition for college students who transfer to the institute.

Wampler and PHCC President Angeline Godwin were in Richmond on Monday and Tuesday. They met with the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee’s education subcommittee, explaining why NCI is developing the advanced manufacturing programs.

Both Wampler, who is a former state senator, and Godwin said they think lawmakers understand the need for the programs.

Martinsville’s unemployment rates have been the state’s highest for many years. Henry County’s jobless rates also are high.

Godwin said the community has a challenge in teaching people the skills needed to do some jobs available locally.

“The sense I got,” Wampler said, “is that my former colleagues are eager to find ways to be helpful to Southern Virginia, and especially to Martinsville and Henry County, in putting people back to work.”

That includes both Republicans and Democrats, as well as lawmakers from across the state, including the more heavily populated Richmond, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas, he emphasized.

“They understand the sense of urgency PHCC and NCI have placed on” the need to establish advanced manufacturing programs to help reverse the loss of industrial jobs the area has seen in recent decades, Wampler said.

His and Godwin’s presentation was “much more warmly received than I anticipated,” he said.

However, he would not say he is optimistic that NCI will get the $750,000, or any of it.

State institutions have “many competing needs” for funding this year, Wampler said.

Godwin said she is optimistic, though, because lawmakers respect Wampler and NCI, and the college will be sharing equipment as well as other resources to prepare students for jobs in modern industry.


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