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Education called key to adding jobs
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Henry County Administrator Tim Hall (right) shows U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, a map of Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre on Thursday. Kaine was among several lawmakers who took part in the event, which was about two years in the making. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)

Friday, April 18, 2014

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The key to economic development in Southside Virginia is a continuing focus on education and workforce training, according to U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and state Sen. Bill Stanley.

Warner said the work being done to provide workforce training at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) and New College Institute (NCI) is a crucial component in area economic development.

Thursday’s groundbreaking at Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre is “just the first step,” Warner said. The next step is to “make sure we fill that park with quality jobs.”

Warner, who was unable to attend the groundbreaking due to a scheduling conflict, said in a phone interview that he was “heartbroken to miss it.”

“A lot of times in Washington it seems like nothing gets done. It’s good to see something get done,” he said.

Warner said that the nearly two-year stalemate on the groundbreaking caused by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ refusal to issue a grading permit was “one that makes people scratch their heads about government, that it took this long for a community that was trying to pick itself up.”

Kaine said he never doubted that the stalemate eventually would be resolved.

“I knew we would get to the right answer if the community stuck with it, and that was never in doubt,” he said.

In his experience, Kaine said, the best economic development tool a community can have is a well-trained workforce, and he echoed Warner’s praise of PHCC and NCI.

“The community colleges are the best place for identifying what is the local need and training to that need,” he said. “Let’s not have one-size-fits-all programs all over the state; let’s train to the need locally.”

Kaine praised NCI Executive Director William Wampler and PHCC President Angeline Godwin for their skills at understanding and addressing economic development issues.

Stanley also praised the colleges.

“Those high-paying advanced manufacturing jobs will come,” he said, “so long as the industries that bring them know that they’ve got a workforce that is easily trainable or ready to go. I think Patrick Henry and NCI and our schools are doing just that.”

Stanley confessed that he had doubted that the Army Corps would issue the permit for Commonwealth Crossing.

“I think the difference was the leadership of Danny Marshall and the members of the tobacco commission pushing through a large investment to show that we’re serious about developing this property,” Stanley said.

“I think the leadership of our congressmen and senators in Washington was very effective. It shows that you can get things done on opposite sides of the aisle. ... Turning over one spade of dirt today is turning a corner on the future of Southside Virginia. I think we’re poised to really have an economic upturn that will be a game-changer for all of us,” he added.


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