By Jennifer BuskeWashington Post Staff Writer Thursday, November 5, 2009
A new tool for the business community could be on the way as Prince William officials and Northern Virginia Community College look to open a workforce development center in the eastern end of the county.
"We are enthusiastically supporting this," Prince William County Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) said after hearing a presentation about the project last month. "I think it's a bargain for the county to be selected to get this facility. If we don't pledge to support a facility here, I'm confident it would be located elsewhere."
NVCC officials are seeking a $1 million commitment from the Prince William Board of County Supervisors in the next few years to open the center at the community college's Woodbridge campus. The proposed 55,000-square-foot center would be the first of its kind in Northern Virginia and is warranted not only to help companies but to support the roughly 20,000 jobs that are coming to Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Belvoir under the base realignment and closure proceedings, said Sam Hill, provost of NVCC's Woodbridge campus.
"These different installations coming here for BRAC really bring a new challenge to the area because they will need all kinds of people who can use" additional training, Jenkins said. "The community college is the primary institution that can provide that."
The center would cost about $29 million to design and build, with Prince William's $1 million commitment helping to leverage state and federal funds, Hill said.
Companies could offer training courses at the center, run retreats or use it as exhibit space if launching a product. Hill said he also envisions the facility having computer classrooms to cater to the area's large information technology community.
"This is about real-time training for businesses and their employees, and it is also about supporting the economic development activity of this region," Hill said. "We are trying to bring good, high-paying jobs and provide qualifying workers for those jobs."
According to a feasibility study conducted by Chmura Economics and Analytics, training can result in a worker earning an additional $1.05 to $8 per hour. Employees who receive training are also about 8 percent more productive at work than those who don't.
The study, which was commissioned by the Northern Virginia Workforce Investment Board, also shows that if the center helped just one to two businesses a year attract or retain 100 workers, the region would have an additional $14 million a year in economic output.
"Part of the reason we [wanted] the study was to see if there was an economic impact associated with" opening a workforce development center, said David Hunn, executive director of the investment board, noting that the study was financed with a roughly $72,000 state grant and federal funds. "Clearly, this shows there is a very positive economic return."
As part of the study, a survey was sent to almost 1,700 businesses in Prince William and southern Fairfax counties, as well as Manassas and Manassas Park. Of the 277 respondents, 14 percent reported paying outside vendors for workforce development, with 61 percent of that spending going outside Prince William.
A development center, Chmura officials said, would keep those dollars local and cut travel expenses companies might incur to send employees for training. Today, the closest workforce development centers are in Stafford County and Hampton Roads.
Hill said he and local officials will spend the coming months trying to secure funding from the General Assembly. If all goes as planned, the center would be operational by summer 2013.
"We've had informal discussions with members of the General Assembly, and they recognize the value this can have to the region," Hill said. "This is all about serving businesses and supporting the economic infrastructure, which is critical to the growth, vitality and quality of life of residents in Northern Virginia."
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