This file art shows Gov. Bill Haslam speaking at an event.
BLOUNTVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced an $843,000 grant award for Northeast State Community College Tuesday to fund equipment for advanced technology programs to move his “Drive To 55” initiative forward.
Haslam, a Republican, proposed and state lawmakers approved $16.5 million in this year’s budget for equipment and technology related to workforce development programs at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges.
The new equipment at Northeast State Community College will allow the school to expand its robotics manufacturing training lab, add a mechatronics training lab and upgrade equipment for its welding and machine tool programs.
“Employers are saying ‘If you have more graduates, we have the jobs for them,’” Haslam said.
More than 200 advanced technologies students will benefit annually from the enhanced training capabilities provided by the grant, Haslam said.
Haslam’s “Drive to 55” effort aims to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-secondary credentials.
One of the most common themes Haslam heard during statewide meetings with business and education officials, including one held at Northeast State, was the lack of capacity and equipment at Tennessee colleges of applied technology and community colleges to meet job demands.
In announcing the grant award, Haslam stood before a room filled with local elected officials, educators and business people.
“A teacher at a college of applied technology told me ‘Every graduate coming out of my program for last two years has gotten a job.’” Haslam related. “I said ‘Why don’t you teach more people in that class?’ He said ‘Because you haven’t given us the equipment to teach more classes. We are literally at our limit.’”
Haslam pointed out good skilled jobs in the state are going unfilled in a time when manufacturing is going well.
“What we’re becoming known for in Tennessee is we’re a state that makes things. I like being known that way,” he noted. ‘We’ve been the leading automotive manufacturing state in the country for the last three years. ... One-third of our auto manufacturing jobs are in this area served by Northeast State.”
Bristol businessman Lee Shillito, president of the Northeast State Foundation, said the grant award will build on the school’s strong relationship with employers.
“Throughout the years, Northeast State has partnered with some of the area’s largest employers ... to provide degrees, certifications, internships and potentially long-term employment. Skill people create a strong economy,” Shillito said.
Currently, only 32 percent of Tennesseans have certificates or degrees beyond high school, and studies show that by 2025 the number must be 55 percent to meet workforce demands, according to Haslam’s administration.
Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly also included almost $33 million in the state budget this year toward building a technical education complex at Northeast State.