Perriello: Funds for NCI clear hurdle in House

September 29, 2010

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello announced Tuesday that his request for $1 million for the Center for Emerging Industries at the New College Institute has cleared a major hurdle in the congressional appropriations process.

"The biggest hurdle was to get” the request out of subcommittee with the funding intact, said Perriello, D-Albemarle County.

“We crossed that hurdle,” the congressman said at NCI in Martinsville.

“When I came into office, my focus was on game changers, things that would make this an area that companies” would want to locate in, Perriello said.

To that end, he asked the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education to include $1 million in its budget for NCI’s proposed Center for Emerging Industries.

If approved by the full committee and House, the bill would have to be reconciled with the Senate’s budget bill and sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, according to a news release from Perriello’s office.

If approved, the federal funds will be used to develop and implement four new degree programs — entrepreneur, renewable energy, advanced manufacturing and technology integration — that will be offered through the Center for Emerging Industries at NCI, according to NCI Executive Director Barry Dorsey.

Development of those four programs is the first phase of creating that center, Dorsey said later Tuesday. The second part, if it becomes a reality, would include research into manufacturing processes in the future to redefine American manufacturing, he said.

The Center for Emerging Industries will be located in one of the NCI buildings, Dorsey said. If a new building for NCI, called the Center for a New Economy, is constructed, the Center for Emerging Industries also might be located there, he said. But they are two different things — the Center for Emerging Industries is a group of programs, and the Center for a New Economy would be a building.

Because it cannot offer degree programs on its own, NCI is talking with another institution about developing the entrepreneur degree program, Dorsey said, adding that he cannot yet identify that institution. NCI offers the second two years of bachelor’s degree programs and master’s degree programs through partner universities.

The entrepreneur program would help people create businesses that would create new jobs to replace some of those that have been lost, Dorsey said. The help could include business courses, computer courses and others, he said.

The program also would include social entrepreneurship for people who work at nonprofits, he said.

The renewable energy degree program fits in with research in that field being done at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville, in South Boston and in other areas, Dorsey said, adding that Perriello is convinced Southside farmers can produce materials for use in alternative energy.

The advanced manufacturing program would train executives and others on new ways of manufacturing, Dorsey said. Currently, NCI offers a certificate program in that area from James Madison University, and it hopes to develop it into a degree program, he added.

Students enrolled in the technology integration program would learn to install and maintain complex systems, Dorsey said.

The center is expected to bring jobs to the area as the degree programs are developed and would free capital to use toward acquisition and development of the Center for the New Economy, Perriello’s news release states.

The Center for the New Economy was included in the Harvest Foundation’s revitalization strategy for the region announced in February, according to Dorsey.

Allyson Rothrock, executive director of the Harvest Foundation, said the center would operate in partnership with other entities across the region, such as the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. and other higher education institutions in Southside.

She added that Perriello’s help will be needed as more funds are sought to make the center a reality. As Perriello put it, the $1 million is “just a first down payment for the Center for Emerging Industries,” Dorsey said.

The total cost of the center is not known, Dorsey said. However, the $1 million would support the development and implementation of the degree programs for three years, he said.

Dorsey said NCI enrollment has topped 400 students, and NCI staff makes more than 5,000 contacts annually with prospective students and parents.

Also, more than 30,000 square feet have been renovated for its classrooms and offices, and 135 people have completed degree programs offered through the institute, Dorsey said.

There are other positives tied to NCI that cannot be quantified, he said, including the number of students staying in school or the number of businesses locating here because of the environment created by NCI.

To have the facility’s progress acknowledged by federal officials “is gratifying, and we are thankful,” said Rob Spilman, chairman of the NCI board.

Martinsville Mayor Kim Adkins cautioned that $1 million is “not a given.” She encouraged residents to “fight in a united voice for that money. We need to speak with one voice.”

“It is only a matter of time before NCI becomes” a stand-alone university, Adkins said. The Center for Emerging Industries “brings us one step closer” to that goal.

In 2012, the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) will determine if NCI should continue as it is, become a stand-alone college or university or be a branch of an existing college or university.

Perriello said residents can contact Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner to encourage them to “be as supportive as possible” of the $1 million funding request.

Also, involving state and local elected officials will help. The combined effort “will show this has across-the-board support,” Perriello said. He also recommended sharing the stories of NCI students.

While he does not know if the total $1 million request will survive the federal budget process, Perriello said, “I think we will get something.”


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