Blount County's job numbers are growing. A new workforce development center will help
Pellissippi State Community College has high hopes to put shovels in the ground before the end of the year on a new workforce development center at its Blount County campus, according to the college’s president, Anthony Wise.
The Ruth and Steve West Workforce Development Center – a $16.5 million pursuit – will become a training hub where students will be able to master the skills necessary to fill critical local jobs, including in manufacturing, computer programming and robotics, Wise said.
The project has been part of conversations about three years, he said, as the community college has assessed what kind of role it can play in supporting the economy of Blount County.
Those conversations, which have been shared with local industry and with the Blount Partnership, grew from taking a look at the number of jobs that the county has attracted and the demand of growing the workforce to accommodate, according to Wise.
In the past eight years, the Blount Partnership has tallied 5,300 new jobs and $2.8 billion in fresh capital investment, according to Pellissippi State's website.
Between both long-established local companies like Denso Manufacturing and Arconic Inc. as well as new companies the county has recruited, such as Cirrus Aircraft, the need for a workforce with training in manufacturing and engineering was clear, he said.
Within the workforce development center – which a media release noted will total 52,397 square feet – Pellissippi State will house engineering and technology programs, recognizing how important it is to have students who understand manufacturing processes as well as computer programming processes and robotics.
The Tennessee College of Applied Technology Knoxville branch will also have a presence in the center, Wise said, offering programs in welding, mechatronics and pipefitting with a parallel mission – “responding to local business and industry needs.”
Both institutions are driven to connect with local high schools and open up dual enrollment opportunities for students.
The community dialogue has gone beyond a building to raise questions about how to align curriculum at area high schools with Blount County workforce needs.
That’s been the “foundation” of the conversation, Wise said, and creating a workforce development center where students can seek out dual enrollment opportunities and where Pellissippi State and TCAT can facilitate programming seems like the most efficient approach.
A community asset in need of support
The new center will allow Pellissippi State to offer full-length degrees as well as offer worker training through business and community services, and provide space for corporate training by local businesses, Wise said.
Plus, the center will be designed with flexibility top of mind, he noted, “so that as technology changes, that we can adapt to those technology changes.”
The building is on track to be completed in one phase over the course of at least a year, with Wise optimistic about celebrating the grand opening in fall 2021 and a soft opening before that.
Funding for the center has been a joint effort among the state, TCAT and Pellissippi State. The college’s foundation is tasked with generating $5.5 million for the center, Wise said, and is closing in on its goal.
The foundation will turn to the campus community this fall as it asks alumni, faculty, staff and the community to contribute.
Major gifts are also anchoring fundraising efforts – including a $250,000 donation from Maryville-based Clayton and another $250,000 gift from the Clayton Foundation, according to a media release from the college.
Powell High seniors signed banners in celebration of committing to a college, vocational education or military service during the school's senior signing day on May 1, 2019.
Pellissippi State aims to have fundraising wrapped up by the time the project breaks ground, Wise said.
The college president is confident that the center will help prime students for workforce demands in a changing economy.
He’s also hopeful that as the higher education institutions work with the school systems, young people realize the kinds of quality educational and job opportunities available to them in their own community.
“What probably excites me most is the opportunity that will be available for students,” Wise said, “and I think they’ll have a great opportunity to explore a number of careers in a number of different critical areas.”
Erica Breunlin, Knoxville News Sentinel
The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit www.eteda.org
Published October 11, 2019