MTCC Workforce Education Center Coming to Old Fort

McDowell Technical Community College (MTCC) has been awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) in the amount of $691,420 to increase workforce training opportunities and diversify the regional economy. This grant was funded by the American Rescue Plan and EDA’s $300 million Coal Communities Commitment.

Old Fort Workforce Center and Rockett Motors Building
Trails class

In partnership with the Town of Old Fort, this grant will help renovate part of the historic Rockett Building to establish a workforce training center that will provide courses and certification in manufacturing, construction, and trails development. The EDA investment will be matched by funds from a GoldenLEAF Foundation grant received in April 2021 from its Community-Based Grants Initiative program. With rising construction costs, the EDA grant is the necessary boost needed to begin construction as early as later this semester.

“McDowell Tech is committed to equity in college access and training opportunities for all,” said Dr. Brian S. Merritt, MTCC President. “The Old Fort Workforce Education Center will be a timely addition to McDowell County to help drive more inclusive economic development opportunities in our region. We are grateful to EDA for this funding. We are also so appreciative of the Dogwood Health Trust for providing assistance from its Leverage Fund to help support the grant writing process. This new Center will help build our capacity and expand our footprint for MTCC to more seamlessly partner with our employers and build their talent pipelines.”  

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 already made a substantial financial commitment and assisted with repairs to the building and drainage system as part of the initial 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.

Manufacturing and construction are major employment needs in McDowell County. Additionally, 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. 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.

The new Center will also offer construction courses aligned with the National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) Certification curriculum, which covers such topics as Basic Safety and Introduction to Construction Drawings. This program is a prerequisite to all other craft skill curricula. The college will also offer a Certified Production Technician (CPT 4.0) program, a Manufacturing Skills Standards Council (MSSC) curriculum that increases a job candidate’s mastery of core competencies for advanced manufacturing production at all levels, from entry-level positions to front-line supervisors.

Madalyn Gaito, MTCC Director of Development, and Stacy Buff, Associate VP of Workforce Development, and Ryan Garrison, Vice President & CFO, have led the college’s collaborative planning efforts for this project.

In the EDA press release on August 16, officials spoke highly of the opportunity for the Old Fort Workforce Education Center to support workforce development and boost the local economy.

“The Economic Development Administration is dedicated to working with communities to support their locally-driven strategies to recover and rebuild from the pandemic,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “McDowell Technical Community College’s new workforce training center will help local workers gain the skills they need to compete for good paying jobs while supporting local industries that are helping to diversify the local economy.”

“Workforce training programs are preparing students to take on the jobs of tomorrow,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “This investment for McDowell Technical Community College will strengthen our workforce and boost our economy.”

This project is funded under EDA’s American Rescue Plan Economic Adjustment Assistance program, which makes $500 million in Economic Adjustment Assistance grants available to American communities. The Economic Adjustment Assistance program is EDA’s most flexible program, and grants made under this program will help hundreds of communities across the nation plan, build, innovate, and put people back to work through construction or non-construction projects designed to meet local needs.

About the U.S. Economic Development Administration (

The mission of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation’s regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA invests in communities and supports regional collaboration in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.
Photo 1:
Working with architects Holland & Hamrick, Inc., MTCC plans to preserve the original look of the historic Rockett Building with the renovated workforce training center in downtown Old Fort. In the photo, the building appears circa 1950 with gas pumps in front of the service wing. Rockett Motors was a Chrysler dealer, with more sales than the Asheville dealer in the 1950s, according to information on file with the National Register of HIstoric Places. As drawn here, current plans for the facade of the Old Fort Workforce Education are designed to honor the memory of the historic Rockett Building.
Photo 2:
MTCC’s Trail Development and Sustainability program has been developed in conjunction with the US Forest Service, Camp Grier, G5 Trail Collective and many other stakeholders. With over 74,000 acres of Pisgah National Forests and 75% of undeveloped land in McDowell County, MTCC aims to be the premier trail development program, based at the new Old Fort Workforce Education Center.