By CHARES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
GRUNDY, Va. — Ground was broken Wednesday on a $5.7 million project that will help in training the Southwest Virginia workforce for jobs in fields related to transportation and logistics.
The new Southern Gap Transportation and Logistics Center will be located in the Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority’s Southern Gap business park, a 3,000-acre economic development park located on a reclaimed surface mine. It is being funded by up to $5.7 million in grants approved last month by the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority.
“VCEDA is pleased to be able to assist on this project which will help prepare the workforce for jobs in fields related to transportation and logistics such as diesel repair, CDL and certified logistics associate or technician,” VCEDA Executive Director/General Counsel Jonathan Belcher said in a press release. “Now our region’s citizens will have a closer location to receive this type of training to prepare them for job openings in these fields.”
Belcher said the grant funding from VCEDA will be used by the Buchanan County IDA to finance the costs and expenses of constructing, developing and implementing the new center, including costs associated with site development and building construction, as well as workforce development and training.
Southwest Virginia Community College in Tazewell County will provide the training and operate the facility.
“Partnerships, such as the one between the college, the Buchanan County IDA, and VCEDA, are a major component in creating a foundation for a successful economy,” SWCC President Dr. Tommy Wright added. “Together, we are creating additional opportunities for our citizens to train for high-wage, high-demand jobs, which in turn create economic progress that will move the region forward.”
Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Brian Ball joined officials in Buchanan County for the groundbreaking ceremony.
“The Southern Gap Transportation and Logistics Center will be an incredible asset for Buchanan County and Southwest Virginia, and I commend the Buchanan County IDA, the Buchanan County Board of Supervisors, Southwest Virginia Community College, and VCEDA for working together to bring this important project to fruition,” Ball said. “The Center will provide tremendous training opportunities and a skilled pipeline of talent to fill in-demand jobs, keeping citizens in the area and positively benefiting the regional economy for years to come.”
According to VCEDA, a national shortfall of around 50,000 truck drivers is being caused by retirements in the current workforce and an increase in demand for delivery services partly due to Internet retail. This shortage in drivers is projected to increase in the coming years. The average salary for an experienced truck driver or diesel mechanic is more than $40,000 per year.
The project calls for the construction of an approximately 35,100-square-foot building to include training bays (garage areas) as well as office, lab and classroom space and the construction of an approximately two-and-one-half acre paved truck driving range for the CDL program are planned, VCEDA said in the press release. Various equipment will be purchased to provide the programs, including 18-wheeler trucks with trailers, diagnostic equipment and other items.
The new transportation center will offer a Commercial Driver’s License and diesel repair program, as well as additional credentialing programs – among them, SNAP-ON credentialing through the National Coalition of Certification Centers. Heavy Duty Diesel Scanner Diagnostics, Multimeter, and Battery Starting and Charging are among those credentialing programs. The Diesel Repair program will also serve the CDL program by repairing and maintaining the trucks used. Additionally, the center will offer a Certified Logistics Associate/Certified Logistics Technician program.
Officials who attended Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony expressed excitement about the project.
“The development of the Southern Gap Transportation and Logistics Center will provide specialized training for our citizens, as well as increase opportunities for employment,” Buchanan County IDA Chairman Jay Rife added. “The Buchanan County Industrial Development Authority is thrilled to see this worthwhile project move forward.”
“Education projects have proven to be a very successful means of economic development in Buchanan County,” Buchanan County Board of Supervisors Chairman Carroll Branham said. “As the Appalachian School of Law and the Appalachian College of Pharmacy have done for the county, the Transportation and Logistics Center at Southern Gap represents the type of development project that opens up a wealth of new possibilities for us.”
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com. Follow him @BDTOwens