October 13, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Virginia’s largest electricity company hopes to find employees in Henry County-Martinsville.
Dominion Virginia Power Chief Executive Officer Paul Koonce said he thinks the New College Institute (NCI) — through its Academy for Engineering and Technology — will be a key that unlocks doors to jobs with his company.
“We need technology workers ... to keep the lights on throughout Virginia,” Koonce said Friday after Dominion Virginia gave NCI $40,000 to support the academy, which was established last year.
“Virginia students must be prepared to meet the (workforce) challenges ahead,” Koonce said, noting that the academy is “an innovative operating model which forges the link between education and workforce needs for advanced manufacturing, engineering and technology industries.”
About 40 high school students are enrolled in the academy, which aims to prepare pupils to enroll in higher education programs related to engineering and technology or seek entry-level jobs with manufacturers using advanced technology. NCI hopes to eventually enroll 180 students in the academy.
Students in the academy can earn a certificate in advanced manufacturing, gain knowledge and experience in careers for which employers are hiring, and earn college credits that will transfer to engineering and technology degree programs at Virginia State University (VSU), NCI’s partner in the program.
“We’re anxious to hire the students who graduate” from programs that NCI and VSU are developing at the institute, Koonce said.
And, “anything we can do to help create job opportunities” statewide is worthwhile, he said. When construction of the institute’s new building on the Baldwin Block is finished, the academy will move there. It currently operates from other NCI facilities uptown.
The power company’s grant for the academy was provided by the Dominion Foundation, the philanthropic branch of the company’s parent firm, Dominion Resources, to the New College Foundation, NCI’s private fundraising arm.
Dominion’s grant will be counted toward a $2 million fundraising campaign for constructing and equipping the new building, according to Debbie Lewis, development officer for the New College Foundation.
Half of the $40,000 will go toward the construction and half will go toward salaries for the academy’s faculty, Lewis said.
NCI applied to Dominion for the grant, said Executive Director William Wampler, a former state senator.
After touring the building’s construction, learning about the academy and “being inspired by Sen. Wampler,” Koonce said, “... all we have is a debt of gratitude” that NCI aims to prepare students for jobs of tomorrow to help improve the state and local economies.
“We could not be more proud to help you,” he told Wampler. Dominion has more than 2 million customers elsewhere in the state. Henry County gets its electricity from Appalachian Power Co., and Martinsville gets its power from a city-operated electrical utility.
However, Dominion has a presence in Martinsville.
In 2010, Faneuil Inc. opened a call center for Dominion in The Clock Tower Building at Commonwealth Centre, the old Tultex Corp. factory. The center answers calls from people who, for instance, want to sign up for electricity service or disconnect it.
While talking to Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, and an NCI board member, Koonce said Faneuil now has at least 300 employees in Martinsville and of those, about 170 are assigned to the Dominion call center.
The call center previously was in Texas. Koonce told Marshall it moved to Martinsville because “I didn’t want a Virginia customer to call anyone but a Virginian.” Ultimately, though, Martinsville was chosen as the new location because of the quality of the area’s workforce, Koonce said.
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