NCI may spark growth in city

June 22, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

The rebirth of uptown Martinsville might be a vital side effect of the New College Institute (NCI), the college's executive director said Wednesday.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Martinsville Uptown Revitalization Association (MURA), Dr. Barry Dorsey said the college could be a magnet for retailers seeking to serve what he hopes will soon be a multitude of students attending NCI's Martinsville classrooms.

In the fall, the college will begin using renovated space in the Shumate & Jessie building to offer business administration courses through Averett University, criminal justice classes through Ferrum College and master's of education and educational specialist courses through the University of Virginia.

Early next year, NCI will round out its pilot program with more business administration and education offerings in Martinsville and nursing classes offered at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC). Those will be followed by another eight to 10 programs the college hopes to bring to the area in the fall of 2007.

"There (eventually) will be restaurants for our students, bookstores for our students," said Dorsey. "So I think the possibilities (for uptown) will be limitless now."

But as with the college's other recent successes Ñ the passage of its enabling legislation, its multi-million dollar spot in the state budget and the announcement of its fall pilot program Ñ Dorsey said attracting the students that will both make NCI a success and help revitalize uptown will require a groundswell of community support.

Although he said the college will work to bring in-demand and niche programs to Henry County and Martinsville, Dorsey said it largely will be up to area residents to make students feel at home here.

The college's success "revolves around the programming and how comfortable students feel coming to uptown. That's where you come in," Dorsey told the MURA members.

Though it might be a few years in the future, the area must be prepared to meet the needs and appetites of the "critical mass" of students that NCI hopes will be attracted to high-demand, niche courses Ñ such as baccalaureate motorsports and industrial technology programs Ñ it hopes to offer in the coming years.

NCI students eventually "will be looking for housing," said Dorsey. "I see that happening within three years, so I would say, get ready."

Such preparations also would be a boon to economic development efforts, said Mark Heath, president and chief executive officer of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC).

"The downtown area of Martinsville and Henry County is vital to what we do," Heath said in his remarks to the MURA meeting. "It really is the heartbeat of this region, and shame on us if we let it go, because it is very much needed."

But it is not just uptown Martinsville that needs revitalization, said Heath.

From picking up the trash that often litters the side of the road to putting a fresh coat of paint on aging buildings, the area also must work on its appearance at the northern and southern entryways to the community, he said.

"Most of our clients will fly into Greensboro and drive up (U.S.) 220 South," he said. "If your first experience in the area is driving up 220, it may not give the impression that this is a community that feels good about itself. ... There is some basic cleanup we need to do."

The local workforce also has some presentation issues, Heath said.

To deal with them, he said the EDC soon will launch a workforce development initiative designed to help teach area residents basic job-getting skills, such as the importance of a clean drug screening as well as how to dress and act during a job interview.

Despite those issues, Heath held fast to the optimistic outlook he has espoused since coming to the area this winter.

"We've got a lot of projects going on; there are a lot of prospects," said Heath. "We believe the future is going to be good for us."

Also at its meeting, the MURA board:

-- Appointed Debbie Hall as president, John Scott as vice president and Jason Dove as secretary and treasurer.

-- Approved MURA's 2006-07 budget.

-- Approved new board members John Scott, George Harris and Barry Jarrett.

-- Recognized outgoing board member Tom Harned, who has served on MURA's board since 1994.

-- Gave All-Star awards to volunteer Judy Lawson, business S & K Office Products, private investors Dr. Mervyn and Virginia King and public investors the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

-- Recognized outgoing board president Lance Heater.


Select News Year: