September 30, 2011
By BULLETIN STAFF REPORTS -
The Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission on Thursday approved a total of $900,000 for projects in the Henry County area, according to Del. Don Merricks.
Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County and a member of the commission, said it allotted $700,000 for grading Lot 2 at the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park and $200,000 for a study of building needs for the New College Institute.
The $200,000 for an NCI building feasibility study will be matched by The Harvest Foundation, according to Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp.
The EDC and NCI submitted a joint application for those funds because if a new building is developed, both groups would be housed there, according to Leanna Blevins, associate director of NCI, and Heath, who also is on the NCI board.
“Moving forward, NCI wants to be very closely aligned with economic development and business and industry,” Blevins said. “The direct results of programs we offer should be jobs for our students. Whether this community grows our own jobs through entrepreneurship or the EDC recruits new business and industry, NCI wants to be part of that.”
Heath agreed, and said co-locating NCI and the EDC would be unique.
“We’re not aware of a place where economic development, business and education talk together on the front end,” developing programs to train workers now and in the future, he said. “It would send a powerful message to existing companies and prospects that we’re making a legitimate effort to meet their needs going forward.”
Skills of the future are grounded in math, science and communication, Heath said, adding that today’s work force is far different than that of the past.
“For us to have people coming out of the school systems that meet those needs, there needs to be strong collaboration” between economic developers and educators, he said. “It is incumbent on us to get business people to say, ‘This is what’s needed’ ... at the front end, rather than educate kids and expect them to fit into an industry model.”
Blevins said there is no timetable for the study, but she hopes it will be completed by an architectural firm in a year. She added that a new building likely would have both classrooms and faculty offices and possibly staff offices, and it would supplement — not replace — NCI’s facilities in uptown Martinsville.
Heath said that he hopes the building would be a reality in three years, although “sooner would be better.”
He added that there are no funding commitments for a building at this time.
But, he said, “the tobacco commission is very supportive ... (of) this unique partnership that we put on the table. If we can come back with a model that they think is workable,” it is possible funds might be available.
A committee of the tobacco commission had recommended last week that the grading funds be approved. The commission’s $700,000 will be leveraged with local funds to fully grade Lot 2 in the Patriot Centre. The county and the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. each are contributing $125,000 to the project.
Merricks said he was pleased the commission approved the funds.
Area officials “have done so well” in attracting core industries to that park, Merricks said, and cited long-time occupants such as Nautica and newcomers such as RTI International Metals Inc.
Those and other existing industries in the park “will be a magnet to attract more, and that’s why its so important to get these sites ready,” Merricks said. “When companies are ready to relocate, they are ready to move” and often don’t have time to wait for lot grading.
State Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, and Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, also serve on the commission, as does Butch Hamlet of Henry County. The commission met Thursday in Abingdon.
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