Haslam touts new facility plans at Northeast State

Hank Hayes • Feb 1, 2013 at 8:24 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A planned $33.2 million emerging technologies building at Northeast State Community College “really touches all the things we are trying to do in K-12 and higher education,” Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told about 150 business leaders Friday.

Haslam, a Republican, was at Northeast State to tout the 120,000-square-foot structure scheduled to replace two existing buildings on its main campus within three years.

He announced funding for the facility when submitting his $32.6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year to lawmakers last Monday.

About 40 faculty offices, three classrooms, six computer labs and 30 technical labs are scheduled to be housed inside the new building.

Programs inside the facility will include computer science, business management, auto service technology, and welding and metal fabrication.

Northeast State has auto and welding programs at downtown Kingsport’s Academic Village, but school President Janice Gilliam said those programs will not be relocated.

Haslam, meanwhile, praised Northeast State’s bid to raise about $2.5 million in local funds toward construction of the new building.

“Everybody comes wanting something, but when people put their own skin in the game, we place great value on that,” Haslam said. “... This whole region has led the state in trying to tie in work force needs with education. ... The focus on emerging technologies is where we have to be going as a state. ... Schools like Northeast State are going to play a key role in that.”

According to Northeast State, the new building could also open the potential for new programs such as culinary arts, entertainment technology, building construction, energy specialist, health information, horticulture and basic law enforcement training. Any of those new programs would have to be approved by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Haslam also used the Northeast State appearance to talk up his “Drive to 55” effort — an initiative increasing the percentage of Tennesseans with a post-secondary credential from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025.

In his proposed budget, Haslam announced a partnership with Western Governors University to offer an online program with curriculum geared toward 800,000 adult Tennesseans with some college credit but no degree.

“One of the things (Lt. Gov.) Ron (Ramsey) and I have talked about is we want to focus on outcomes in government — what the result is — not input,” Haslam told the crowd.

Haslam also pitched some of the other main talking points in his budget plan, such as an additional cut in the sales tax on food from 5.25 percent to 5 percent and adding another $100 million to the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

“Tennessee is different,” he said of the state’s spending priorities. “If you add up all the debt the state owes, ours is the second or third lowest in the country. ... We’re leading the Southeast in manufacturing job gains. Manufacturing jobs are what we are aiming to because they pay well.”

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