Regional Per Capita and Competitive Workforce Projects Awarded GO Virginia Funding

The GO Virginia State Board announced the approval of seven regional projects funded through GO Virginia regional per capita and competitive grants totaling $6.7 million. In Region One, Mountain Empire Community College’s project, Smart Farming at the Center for Workforce and Innovation of Appalachia, was awarded $310,472 in per capita funding. The GO-TEC Phase II competitive proposal involving Region One was submitted by Region Three and approved at $4.8 million with $1.3 million in initial funding.

Recommended for approval by the Region One Council in December, the Smart Farming program will be established at the Center for Workforce and Innovation of Appalachia (CWIA), located in the former Appalachia Elementary School. Smart Farming is focused on using drone technology for agricultural purposes, which will allow the College to expand their Unmanned Systems program to offer national credentials for FAA drone operations, agricultural inspections and pesticide spraying. These additional capstone courses will allow Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) to offer hands-on drone training and establish the first Unmanned Aerial Systems Associates Degree in the Virginia Community College System.

Excited about the opportunities MECC will now be able to provide as a result of the GO Virginia support, Mountain Empire Community College President, Dr. Kristen Westover, stated, “Funding approved for the Smart Farming initiative will allow the College to grow existing training programs in unmanned aerial systems and develop new precision farming processes, enabling current and future farmers to use technology to improve farming techniques, increase yields and maximize their profits. Additionally, MECC will be able to create an Agricultural Science Laboratory at the CWIA, allowing regional farmers local access to plant pathology, water testing, soil testing, organic pesticide control and crop yield estimates. Agriculture has historically been a staple industry of this region and we look forward to helping revitalize it through this initiative.” MECC projects that the establishment of the program will create new jobs in the agriculture industry and increase production and profits for existing farmers in the region.

Mike Quillen, chair of the Region One Council, was pleased the State Board supported Region One’s application for MECC’s innovative program. “This project has multiple attributes including repurposing existing abandoned school facilities, introduction of high technology (i.e. drones) and assisting our critical agricultural industry here in Southwest Virginia.”

Region One is also enthusiastic about the collaboration with Region Three and State Board approval of the GO-TEC Phase II project, which specifically involves participation from Wytheville Community College (WCC) and the counties of Bland, Carroll, Grayson, Wythe and Smyth as well as the city of Galax. Led by Danville Community College, GO-TEC Phase II is designed to increase capacity for training high demand, high income workers and to increase the pipeline of students entering five regional training areas of need: precision machining, welding, IT/cybersecurity, robotics/mechatronics, and advanced materials. The project includes a “hub and spoke” model, which has students from “spoke” institutions coming to a “hub” for specialized training. In WCC’s case, once completing WCC’s machining program, students would complete a year of advanced training in machining in Danville.

The GO-TEC Phase II project was awarded full funding with a contingency that a scaled approach be initially funded at $1.3 million and validated after a year prior to receiving the full $4.8 million. The award includes funding for WCC to strengthen its precision machining program and begin exploration of and support for Career Connection labs in Region One’s middle schools.

Wytheville Community College President, Dr. Dean Sprinkle, stated, “We are pleased to be a partner in this GO Virginia initiative. WCC’s participation will help increase regional capacity as a partner in the “hub and spoke” model, but we are also working with our local k12 school systems to emulate the innovative pathways to “increase the pipeline” of interest in technical, health and STEM from middle to high school to college.”

The State Board also accepted an administrative approval of an expansion of United Way of Southwest Virginia’s (UWSWVA) Ignite Internships program in Region Two. Last year, UWSWVA was awarded $250,000 in Region One per capita funding for an enhanced capacity building project to implement a web-based platform that provides activities to encourage post-secondary education, streamlines work credentialing, provides work-based learning opportunities and matches new graduates with local employers. The new Region Two per capita award will provide UWSWVA with $99,406 to deploy the program in Giles and Pulaski Counties and the City of Radford, which are part of the Region VII school district that supported their initial application in Region One.

It was announced at the State Board meeting this week that Region One will receive additional per capita funding for fiscal year 2020. With over $2 million available in per capita grants, the Region One Council is accepting proposals for projects that align with the Region One Growth & Diversification Plan. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis with an upcoming deadline of April 8, 2019. The Region One Council will hold their next meeting on May 7, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. at the Bristol Virginia School Board Office. For more information, visit the Region One website at www.goswva.org or contact Robyn Lee at rlee@uvawise.edu.