MECC Receives Go Virginia Grant Recommendation to Support Smart Farming Training

Big Stone Gap – Mountain Empire Community College is pleased to announce the GO Virginia Region One Council’s recent approval of a $310,371.84 grant to establish Smart Farming at the Center for Workforce and Innovation of Appalachia (CWIA).

Located in the Town of Appalachia in the former Appalachia Elementary School, the CWIA will be a satellite training facility to enable Mountain Empire Community College to expand many of its existing programs, as well as launch several new programs. The GO Virginia funding request will support MECC and its partners to establish the Smart Farming program, focused on using drone technology for agricultural purposes, which will allow the College to expand their Unmanned Systems program.

The concept of “Smart Farming” involves the use of technology to improve farming techniques, increase yields, and maximize profits. The program will involve a two-step process of data collection using drone technology and data analysis using the new Agricultural Science Laboratory. The addition of the Smart Farming courses will enable MECC to develop the first Unmanned Aerial Systems Associate Degree program in the Virginia Community College System and the only such program in Region One.

As part of the Smart Farming program, the College will establish the first Agricultural Science Lab in the region to provide space and resources to analyze data collected by the UMS program. MECC projects that the establishment of the program will create new jobs in the agriculture industry and increase production and profits for existing farmers in the region.

Mountain Empire Community College President, Dr. Kristen Westover stated, “Mountain Empire Community College is honored and excited about the GO Virginia Region One funding opportunity to support the development and creation of new workforce training programs in smart farming and agriculture technology. These funds will support MECC in developing entrepreneurial offerings, purchasing equipment and developing coursework, programming and other new and innovative learning opportunities to enhance the workforce development offerings at the Center for Workforce & Innovation of Appalachia.”

“The Region One Council is pleased to recommend to the State Board the innovative project put forth by Mountain Empire Community College, which addresses specifically one of our industry targets, Food and Beverage Manufacturing”, said Mike Quillen, chair of the Region One Council. “This project will also provide insight to Region One’s other targeted industries through advancement of drone technology and training. Additionally, the project brings revitalization to the Town of Appalachia, repurposing a vacated educational facility to continuing use and providing certification in a rapidly growing sector.”

The Mountain Empire Community College proposal will be submitted to the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) for further evaluation. The GO Virginia State Board will review the project at their March 12, 2019 meeting. The GO Virginia Region One Council accepts applications for Per Capita Grant funding on a rolling basis.

The Virginia Initiative for Growth and Opportunity in each Region (GO Virginia) was initiated by the Virginia Business Higher Education Council (VBHEC) and the Council on Virginia’s Future to foster private-sector growth and job creation through state incentives for regional collaboration by business, education, and government. Recognizing the harsh effect of deep federal budget cuts on a Virginia economy that is overly dependent on public-sector jobs, business leaders formed the GO Virginia campaign to work for regional cooperation on private-sector growth, job creation, and career readiness.

GO Virginia Region One covers the 13 counties in the three planning districts that represent Southwest Virginia. The Region One Council is mostly made up of private sector business leaders and some members of the public sector and higher education. The University of Virginia’s College at Wise serves as the support organization for the Region One Council.