$800,000 Grant Will Open McDowell Tech Center in Old Fort

The Golden LEAF Foundation, a non-profit foundation whose mission is to promote economic development in North Carolina’s rural and tobacco-dependent counties, has awarded McDowell Technical Community College an $800,000.00 grant through its Community-Based Grants Initiative.

The grant will fund the renovation of a 4,000-square foot historic building on Main Street in Old Fort, NC, adjacent to the Rockett Building. Renovations will allow the college to create the McDowell Tech Workforce Education Center at Old Fort. Initially, the new center will offer workforce development certification courses in manufacturing, construction and trail development.

The Town of Old Fort will retain ownership of the building and has agreed to a long-term lease of the facility to McDowell Tech. As a major partner in the project, the Town has made a substantial financial commitment to assist with repairs to the building and drainage system during the renovation.

“I would like to thank everyone involved in this endeavor,” said Old Fort Mayor Rick Hensley. “This will be a huge plus for our residents and the surrounding community. I would especially like to thank the college for actively seeking a location in the Old Fort area,” he said.

“McDowell Tech is committed to equity in college access and training opportunities for all,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, President of McDowell Technical Community College. “This new center will expand our footprint, but most importantly, it will take opportunities to the Old Fort community where there is great interest in workforce training and education. Opportunities to expand and build a talent pipeline for our manufacturing partners are critical. With the local focus on trails development and outdoor recreation, this timing is perfect and will help drive economic and tourism development in the region.”

Trails, outdoor recreation and ecotourism are quickly becoming a major economic driver in the region. Old Fort is surrounded by approximately 75,000 acres of protected woodlands in the Pisgah National Forest, making its trail network a popular attraction for outdoor enthusiasts. According to an economic impact report prepared by McDowell Tourism Development Authority and Destination by Design, the addition of planned trails will generate an estimated $2.5 million dollars annually in tourism and economic development for the region.

To meet the demands created by expected growth in the ecotourism industry and to foster timely, quality trail development, McDowell Tech has also undertaken a Trail Development Workforce Program, the second of its kind in North Carolina.

Classes and certification programs are slated to begin at the Old Fort center in mid-2022, with the following specialty tracks already announced:

  1. National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Certification – This 73-hour curriculum track developed by 125 industry experts covers such topics as Basic Safety and Introduction to Construction Drawings. This program is a pre-requisite to all other craft skill curricula.
  2. Certified Production Technician (CPT 4.0) program – This Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) program increases a job candidate’s mastery of core competencies for advanced manufacturing production at all levels, from entry-level positions to front-line supervisors. Raising the level of performance among production technicians increases a company’s productivity and competitiveness.
  3. Trail Development and Sustainability courses led by industry experts with extensive experience in the field.

Third-party certifications from the American Heart Association (e.g. First Aid CPR) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (OSHA-10, a general safety and health hazards awareness program for entry-level workers) will enhance both the NCCER and Trail Construction and Sustainability Tracks.

Madalyn Gaito, MTCC Director of Development, and Stacy Buff, Dean of Career and Technical Education, led the college’s collaborative planning efforts for this project.

“We are truly proud of our staff and administrators for their leadership on this project and for developing strong relationships with our community partners to move the needle on economic growth and workforce development in McDowell County,” said Gary Stroud, Chair of the McDowell Technical Community College Board of Trustees. “We are appreciative of the support of our McDowell County Commissioners and our County Manager to endorse this project and for the leadership in Old Fort to give the green light for this needed expansion.”

Golden LEAF’s competitive Community-Based Grants Initiative was established to identify projects in the state’s eight Prosperity Zones which would have a significant impact on economic development in the region and are ready for implementation. Awards are limited to a maximum of $1.5 million per county and a maximum of three recipients per county.

The NC Rural Center assisted Golden LEAF by providing technical assistance and coaching to organizations developing projects and seeking financial assistance through Golden LEAF and other sources.

The focus for this grant cycle was the state’s Northwest Prosperity Zone, a region extending from Alexander, Wilkes and Allegheny counties to the east and Mitchell and Yancey counties to the west. On April 1st, Golden LEAF announced fourteen grant recipients for projects totaling $9.6 million that will support workforce preparedness, job creation and economic investment, public infrastructure and agriculture in nine of the twelve counties in the Northwest Prosperity Zone.