MGCC workforce center to offer trades training
The Mountain Gateway Community College Real Estate Foundation will renovate a downtown Buena Vista building into the Wilson Workforce Development Center, likely starting early this year.
It’s named for Buena Vista philanthropist Joe Wilson, who purchased the 8,750-square-foot former car dealership at 2019 Forest Ave. for $370,000 and sold it to the foundation for $270,000.
The center will offer trainings in a variety of trades, says MGCC President John Rainone, initially including heating, ventilation and air conditioning; electrical and plumbing; diesel mechanic; machine tool; welding; building trades; and commercial driving classes.
“The whole area — Rockbridge and the Shenandoah Valley — has a lot of manufacturing,” Rainone says. “We want to be able to train not only the unemployed, but also the underemployed. Once they start working, this could be a customized training center where local businesses could send their employees to get upskilled.”
Renovating the building is expected to cost more than $5.3 million, and more than $4.5 million in federal, state and private dollars had been raised by early November 2022, Rainone says. The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded the foundation a $3 million grant in September 2022.
Several local businesses wrote letters to the EDA supporting the workforce center grant, including heating and air conditioning manufacturer Modine Manufacturing Co., signmaker Everbrite LLC and truck stop Lee Hi Travel Plaza, now Lee Hi Travel Centers of America. Modine is expanding, Everbrite needs electricians, and Lee Hi “desperately” needs diesel mechanics, says Rainone.
Tom Roberts, Buena Vista’s director of community and economic development, says the center not only will provide training for existing businesses, but also for those at the Virginia Innovation Accelerator, a local business incubator. It will also help with ongoing downtown revitalization.
Mountain Gateway’s real estate foundation estimates the Wilson Workforce Development Center will help create or retain 110 jobs and generate $2 million in private investment.
Construction and renovation of the building is expected to take 10 months. Rainone says he hopes that classes can begin in spring 2024.
“We’ll start out slow and then be able to ramp up,” he says. “We’ll be able to serve, at any given time, probably 150 students. We’re hopeful that we’ll have 400 to 500 on an annual basis.”