Northam Calls for Expansion to UVA College at Wise

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam on Tuesday pitched a $15 million expansion at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise as part of his seven-point plan to revive Southwest Virginia and other rural regions across the commonwealth. Under Northam’s proposal, the state would spend an additional $15 million to grow the campus in Virginia’s coalfields region so the college could enhance its course offerings in high-demand job fields like cybersecurity, energy, computer science and unmanned aerial systems. Virginia’s lieutenant governor faces Republican Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Cliff Hyra, a Mechanicsville lawyer, in the general election. Northam characterized the expansion as a public-private partnership that would include investment from the state and other sources. In addition, Northam suggested the college could court more out-of-state and international students, who pay higher tuition rates. UVa-Wise operates on a $42 million annual budget, $15 million of which comes from the state. Northam’s proposal would double the state’s contribution for at least one year. College growth could translate to more businesses and jobs in and around Wise County, Northam said. Expanding course offerings would attract new talent to the region, which in turn, could lead to the university netting more grant funding, he said. “Just look at what’s happening in Roanoke right now with Virginia Tech Carilion; it’s literally what I would call on fire,” he said. “The talent that they’ve brought in is just exciting, businesses are popping up in the area, and it is really driving the economy there.” Northam visited the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute on Friday. UVa-Wise has long embraced its role as a driver of economic development, college spokeswoman Kathy Still said. In 2016, the college released an outside study showing UVa-Wise had a $64 million economic impact on the eight coalfield localities during the previous year. The study also found the college’s employees, students and visitors supported 586 jobs in the coalfields region. “We are eager to learn more about the Lt. Governor’s proposal, especially the private-public partnership aspect,” she said in an email. “We are also pleased to hear the Lt. Governor is looking to invest at least $15 million in ongoing operating funds to expand the enrollment of the campus. “Virginia is fortunate that its elected leadership invests in higher education as a means toward expanding the economic climate of the commonwealth.” In a statement, Gillespie’s campaign called Northam’s proposal a “hastily thrown-together policy plan to address the serious challenges facing rural Virginia.” Northam has been talking about the idea to expand UVa-Wise since before a primary forum in April in Bristol. This is his first detailed plan for the university’s expansion. Gillespie spokesman David Abrams also pointed to a debate invitation for Gillespie and Northam to meet at UVa-Wise. Gillespie accepted last month. Northam has not yet accepted or declined the invitation. “For the last four years, Lieutenant Governor Northam failed to show up for a single meeting of the Center for Rural Virginia Board on which he serves,” Abrams said. “His track record makes clear that in his time in statewide office he has not put in the work to help our rural areas. In fact, ‘No Show Northam’ hasn’t even shown up.” Members of Northam’s staff attended some of the quarterly or biannual board meetings in the lieutenant governor’s stead, according to meeting minutes from the 21-person board. Such meetings routinely have some absent board members. Northam’s newly released plan also calls for additional broadband in rural areas and consolidation of broadband efforts under one state cabinet official, expanding renewable energy and a two-year tax break for small businesses that open in rural and economically depressed areas. His “start up” tax proposal would exempt eligible businesses from two years of business, professional and occupational license tax and merchants’ capital tax. The plan also includes duplicating a pilot program at Fort Lee in Prince George County that lets active-duty soldiers earn industry-recognized credentials while in the military so they can get jobs more easily when they exit. Northam, a veteran, served as an Army doctor for eight years. In a conference call with reporters, Northam also pointed to his $37 million program that funds last-dollar tuition and fees for Virginians pursuing associate degrees or workforce training in high-demand job fields. The program would require participants, upon finishing their degrees, to work for a year for the government, a nonprofit organization or an economically depressed region. Last week, Gillespie announced plans to combat the opioid epidemic that has swept Southwest and Southside Virginia. His plan centers on educating students about the dangers of prescription pain pills, training teachers and community leaders to recognize the signs of addiction, and reforming medical school curriculum on prescribing pain pills. In the lead-up to the Republican primary, the former Republican National Committee chairman also introduced a tax reform plan that would cut income tax rates by 10 percent across-the-board — a proposal he argues will help families in rural and low-income areas. Gillespie has also promised to cut state regulations that impede small businesses from opening and flourishing.       Source: Roanoke