Gubernatorial Candidate Terry McAuliffe Tours VWCC

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Dan Horine demonstrates part of the VWCC robotic lab to Terry McAuliffe.
Dan Horine demonstrates part of the VWCC robotic lab to Terry McAuliffe.
Dan Horine demonstrates part of the VWCC robotic lab to Terry McAuliffe.

The Democratic candidate and former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe listened intently and took notes as he toured the Technology Department in Webber Hall at Virginia Western Community College Wednesday. He plans to visit all 23 community colleges in Virginia.

There is a need to invest in community colleges and, “Education is not an expense – it is an investment,” he said.

Dan Horine, program head for Mechatronics & Energy Management Systems, said VWCC is the only college in Virginia to offer the Siemens Mechatronic System Certification Program. The program started with 2 students five years ago and now has 62.

Existing businesses like Optical Cable, Plastics One and Elizabeth Arden Logistic Center are just a few of the companies that hire from the program. Horine said that they also work with the Roanoke Regional Partnership to recruit new businesses for Roanoke.

Jim  Poythress, Workforce Development coordinator, said that one of their difficulties was that there was no stable funding stream. Grants help for a while but that dries up and “we have to start again” and companies don’t have time to train a workforce.

McAuliffe asked Poythress, “if he were governor what one thing would he do.” Poythress said he would create a stable funding source to help small businesses with training. “They basically create 80 percent of our economy … we’re not doing what we need to do to support them.”

Poythress expects sequestration to affect them at some point. Grants are already difficult to come by. “We’re working to develop a successful and vibrant dynamic economic environmental climate here in the valley – it’s going to take a lot of us working together.”

“It’s an absolute disgrace that the folks in Washington, D.C. cannot come together,” said McAuliffe. “We have to come together, compromise … it’s not a partisan political issue.”

To be globally competitive more and more sophisticated automated mechanical processes are needed. “If we are unable to prepare our workforce we are going to be in dire straits five to eight years down the road,” said Poythress. There are jobs available but workforce skills are lacking.

Horine demonstrated the $15,000 robotic lab mechanism that picks up a part, measures it, assembles it and sorts it. “It’s real equipment for real skills for real jobs,” he said.

McAuliffe later said he was somewhat pleased that the transportation bill passed in the General Assembly. When asked what he would change as Governor, he said he would correct the part of the bill that siphons money from the general fund to pay for roads. The general fund holds money for public safety and education and they are dependent on that money being there.

“After I’m elected governor then we can work on different parts of the bill,” he said. “It’s a great compromise for the people of the Commonwealth … but with every compromise it’s always imperfect.”

On Medicaid expansion McAuliffe stressed that if Virginia doesn’t take the funding offered by the federal government hospitals will incur $1.2 billion in non-reimbursable costs and Virginia would lose out on related jobs. “The day I’m sworn in as governor is the day I start working to bring that money in to make sure our citizens are getting their money back that they paid the federal government.”

McAuliffe met with Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling on Tuesday and offered to work with him when elected. “The sad part about it is Bill Bolling has had a distinguished career and there’s no room for him in the [Republican] Party they have today … the social ideological agenda has driven out people like Bill Bolling who can’t even compete in a Republican primary.”

Bolling later in the same day put out an email asking for advice from supporters on whether he should run as an independent Republican. The communication was taken by supporters as an indication that he was on the cusp of his decision to run for governor. The RPVA holds its convention on May 18.