Northeast State Community College President Janice Gilliam, left, and Bill Hagerty, commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development at Tuesday's press conference. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
BLOUNTVILLE — Northeast State Community College and Bell Helicopter rolled out an education collaboration Tuesday to help aviation jobs take off in Northeast Tennessee.
Core classes in the collaboration — which is part of a greater aviation jobs initiative in the region — will begin this fall on Northeast State's Blountville campus with specific aviation courses to be offered in spring 2015.
Bell Helicopter's footprint inside the Tri-County industrial Park in Piney Flats continues to grow, with production buildings and business segments employing about 500 people.
The collaboration intends to help Bell and others attract local talent rather than seek employees through national staffing agencies.
Bell will provide training instructors to help Northeast State develop aviation-related course content and create craftsmen with mechanical and electrical skills.
Down the road, additional objectives include developing a flight school and four-year aviation curriculum.
The collaboration was announced to a crowd on the future site of Northeast State's $35.5 million Emerging Technologies complex.
"Our goal is to promote aviation and aerospace education," Northeast State President Janice Gilliam said.
The courses are within Northeast State's Divisions of Advanced and Business Technologies, leading to either a two-year degree in general technology or certificate in industrial operations.
"We expect there will be a large interest in the program," said Sam Rowell, dean of Northeast State's Advanced Technologies Division. "These same skills in the courses are common to a lot of different industries. ... These courses will give students the skills to be employable."
Tennessee state Rep. Tony Shipley, R-Kingsport, was one of the aviation jobs initiative's founders with Richard Blevins, Bell's Piney Flats training manager and aviation advocate Hank Somers.
"We had a wild idea," Shipley, a 23-year Air Force veteran, said. "That wild idea was we had something special here in East Tennessee — people, infrastructure, an airport (Tri-Cities Regional Airport). ... We can attract worldwide technology in the aviation industry."
Chad Nimrick, general manager of Bell's Piney Flats operation, said the collaboration is laying the foundation for aviation jobs development.
Bell has been reaching out to area K-12 school systems this year to promote aviation careers.
"Tennessee has always been known for its music, its beauty and its craftsmanship," Nimrick said. "Now it'll be known for its craftsmanship in training world-class aviation professionals."
In addition to growing jobs at Bell, industry recruiters hope the initiative will help Tri-Cities Regional Airport market two open tracts of land on its south side airfield.
Last year, Airport Authority commissioners hired Columbia, S.C.-based consultant R. Kennedy Holt to help market those south side land tracts — "Aviation Parks I and II."
The 140-acre tract, Aviation Park II, has been designated a "Select Tennessee Certified Site" by the state's Department of Economic and Community Development. The certification means the site is ready for immediate development with no environmental issues, has all utilities in place and also has a transportation plan. Both tracts have taxiway and road access.
TCRA is also working with NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership to create jobs on the airfield.
"Aviation is one of our top targeted industries," NETWORKS Chief Executive Officer Clay Walker said. "... What was announced at Northeast State is a big, big arrow. It is what we call in economic development a differentiating advantage. We feel we are well positioned for aviation projects. ... We have a union-free work environment, which is always a critical factor in this industry. "
In 2006, the airport recruited Honda Jet to build small business jet aircraft, but the project went to North Carolina.