New tech center addresses workforce development

Progress occurs inside and outside this spring on the Paramont Applied Technology and Workforce Center at Virginia Highlands Community College. 

By A.J. Kaufman, Managing Editor
Photos by A.J. Kaufman and Laura Pennington

As the demand for skilled labor among businesses continues to approach a tipping point across the region, Virginia Highlands Community College (VHCC) has chosen to address the issue with a large construction project, focusing on key industries like diesel mechanics and welding.

Because of the generosity of local businesses, organizations and individual supporters, VHCC and its Foundation are nearing completing the construction of a new building to support economic vitality and crucial workforce development efforts in Southwest Virginia and beyond.

Representing the first new instructional building on the Abingdon campus in 30 years, the Paramont Applied Technology and Workforce Center will be home to the College’s Welding and Diesel training programs, as well as its Workforce Development Division, which offers short-term training, corporate training solution and small business development services.

Built by BurWil Construction on a hill near the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, the new Center features two state-of-the-art labs for Welding and Diesel, interactive classrooms and collaboration spaces for students, and a new home-base for the College’s exciting work with business and industry. The 20,000 square-foot building is projected to be completed this summer, conveniently in time for fall classes.

Cognizant that additional graduates with technical skills will positively impact many high-profile businesses in the community, VHCC’s goal is to train and keep well-paid talent in the region. They know employers need workers with skills where some post-high school training is required, but not necessarily a four-year degree.

VHCC Vice President of Institutional Advancement Laura Pennington told the Business Journal that this initiative is exciting and challenging.

“If members of the community have driven by the building recently, they will have noticed that the exterior brickwork and metal panels are complete, and the windows and beautiful glass garage-bay doors are installed,” Pennington explained. “What they may not be able to see from their car is what’s happening on the inside! In addition to the progress being made on interior infrastructure like electrical and plumbing, I am excited to share that drywall is up, painting is underway, and other interior finish-work is being staged. It will be absolutely thrilling to see students begin classes in the new building this August. We plan to celebrate this amazing achievement with a ribbon cutting this fall and cannot wait to officially dedicate the Paramont Applied Technology & Workforce Center.”

At just shy of $8.5 million, fundraising for the building is nearly complete; however, the school and VHCC Foundation are still asking the community to help “close the final gap” of roughly $400,000 for the project to be fully funded.

Construction planning faced COVID-19 pandemic-influenced supply chain issues, as well as inflation costs on materials, which at one point soared to nearly 80%.

Early investors and contributions include Paramont Manufacturing LLC, the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, the Genan Foundation, the Wellspring Foundation, the United Company Foundation and several private donors.

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