During groundbreaking May 29 for the new Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Technical Community College, speakers said as much about jobs and partnerships as they did academics.
The connection between learning and attracting good paying jobs wasn’t lost on anyone.
State Sen. Raymond Finney said Blount County is in competition with countries around the world. “If we are to attract good paying jobs, we must have a job force that is well trained, especially in the technical fields. I’m so happy this is coming to fruition. It will continue to add wealth to our county,” he said. “Thank you for what you’re doing for our community and keep up the good work.”
“We’re in a global economy,” Blount Chamber Partnership president Fred Forster said. “We’re in competition with China, India and Europe. This college will be critical in the days ahead.”
Several spoke about how the new campus would help train employees for the new Research and Development park planned on the former Jackson farm and for the expansion at Denso.
Bryan Daniels, vice president of the Economic Development Board, said that with the technical park and the Denso expansion, the new Pellissippi campus will have a big impact on Blount County.
County Mayor Jerry Cunningham said the new campus’ economic impact on the community is immeasurable. “The way this facility will dovetail with other facilities like the Research and Development park is amazing. This location is superb. Congratulations. We are so proud,” he said.
State Rep. Joe McCord said that education is the key when recruiting businesses that will bring jobs to Blount County. “If you don’t have a good workforce, they’re not coming in the first place.”
State Rep. Doug Overbey echoed McCord’s thoughts. “If it had not been funded last year, it would not have been funded this year. It would not have happened.”
Overbey said the new campus shows why Blount County is special. He said the work in getting the new campus property bought and funding allocated for the building was the work of the college, the board of regents, the cities of Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County.
“That spirit of cooperation to make an effective difference is what makes Blount County special,” Overbey said.
While there had been discussion about putting the campus on the industrial park property a few miles closer to Maryville, the college ultimately chose this location. “It truly has been a community effort that has brought us to this location,” Daniels said.
Pellissippi State president Allen Edwards said the college started out asking for $7 to $8 million and eventually got $17.8 million allocated for the project. “We have a long way to go,” he said.
Edwards said donations and pledges of all amounts are important. “Whether it is $50 or $500,000, they’re all critical,” he said.
David Gregory, vice chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, was on hand to present a special award to Ruth and Steve West. “I’m in a community that gets it,” he said, before presenting the honor for the Wests.
The chancellor gave Ruth and Steve West the Award for Excellence in Philanthropy. “Steve and Ruth West have been supporters of Pellissippi State for 20 years,” he said, as he outlined the activities and involvement the Wests have had in philanthropy projects and concerns in Blount County.
When asked if he wanted to address the crowd, Steve West drew laughter when he reminded the audience there was a sale at West Chevrolet this weekend, before turning serious and thanking those involved for the honor. “It’s been a joy and a privilege living in Blount County,” he said. “We are just giving back a portion of what this community has blessed us with.”
West said companies are looking for a well-trained job force. “We need to deliver,” he said.
West and Peggy McCord are leading an effort to raise $2 million to equip the Pellissippi State campus in Blount County. “Blount County does things a little better. We’re going to have a college campus that looks like a college campus. It’s going to be such a focus point,” McCord said.
West said $1.1 million of the $2 million has been raised specifically to equip the Blount County campus. “There’s enough money under this tent to finish this off,” he said. “We want to make this one of the crown jewels of Blount County for future generations.”
Former State Rep. Bo Henry said the community college system is at the forefront of training people for technical jobs. “People lose their jobs not because they’re inept, but technology changed their jobs. Pellissippi State is at the forefront of training for these jobs,” he said.
Bo and Shirley Henry were also there to support their daughter, Holly Burkett, who has recently been named as the new dean at the Blount County campus of Pellissippi State. Burkett said the new campus should get the attention of prospective students. “We hope to get more students coming to campus,” she said.
Rhonda Rice, executive vice president of the Knox County Chamber, was on hand to help celebrate. “Pellissippi is a huge part in what we do regarding economic development,” she said. “They’re really a huge, huge part of our success.”
Rice said the new campus will have the ability to bring in equipment so that employees from different companies can attend classes and train.
Maryville City councilman Andy White said the new campus was important for Maryville as well as all of Blount County. “This will be an excellent training ground for companies like Denso and Alcoa and Clayton so we can provide a good educated workforce,” he said. Bonnie Millard, executive director of the Blount County Education Initiative, said the new campus was good for students in the area. “I think it will give students another option to stay here and go to school,” she said.
Joy Bishop said the new campus was going to be one of the best things in Blount County. Money invested in creating good education facilities isn’t wasted, she said. “I feel our education facilities need to look special because people should feel special when going to college,” she said.
Members of the Petri family who sold the farm land to Pellissippi State for the new campus were on hand for the groundbreaking. Dorothy Bumgarner Petri said she remembers living on the family farm of that belonged to her grandfather, Y.J. Bumgarner, until her 6th grad year in school. She said she loved education, having been a teacher all her life at various schools, including Friendsville High School, Walland and retiring from Heritage.
Her grandson and the great-grandson of Y.J. Bumgarner is Jacob Roberts, 13. He said his great-grandfather farmed tobacco and raised cattle on the land. Bumgarner, said Jacob, would be proud the family was selling land for a college.
“As a member of the Petri bloodline, the decision to sell this land to build an educational facility is one that I know would make Y.J. Bumgarner very proud,” Roberts said. “Education has always been really highly valued in my family, and I know this would make him happy.”