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March 27, 2012 | Tom Ballard

ACE Accelerator reflects Roane State’s commitment to partnerships

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a four-part series of articles focused on Roane State Community College’s {RSCC} activities in the region. The series expands on topics covered in an interview with RSCC President Gary Goff that was posted February 3 on The first two articles in the new series were posted March 15 and 20. It should also be noted that the writer is Chair of the ACE Accelerator Advisory Council.)

The philosophy of strong partnerships that Lou Rabinowitz espoused in the first article in this series is exemplified in the Advanced Composites Employment (ACE) Accelerator that Roane State Community College (RSCC) is leading.

During a multi-program interview with, Mike Farmer, ACE Director, talked about the unique manner in which the program is funded – three federal agencies – and the number of organizations that came together to submit a winning proposal and are now discharging specific tasks.

He said Roane State is developing an Associate’s Degree program while organizations like Tech 20/20, the University of Tennessee’s Center for Industrial Services (UT CIS) and Innovation Valley Inc. (IVI) have equally specialized roles. Roane State provides overall program management.

“I was attracted to this program because it was the only one of the three (new RSCC initiatives) that offers a degree at the end of the day,” Farmer said. The other two programs are the Advanced Materials Training and Education Center (AMTEC) and National STEM Consortium.

“We are going to hang three directed electives onto the gen tech degree (that Roane State offers),” Farmer said. For the first 100 people who enroll in the next four years, the federal grant that funded ACE will pay for the final nine hours of class work needed to earn an Associate’s Degree.

Farmer explained that ACE’s target audience would include students enrolled in the regular gen tech program who have 60 to 70 hours but no degree, those enrolled in non-gen tech programs who have about 50 hours, and those in the college’s very popular allied health and nursing programs who might want to explore other career opportunities. In any case, the three ACE specific electives could help them quickly earn an Associate’s Degree.

“Our (near term) goal is to have a gen tech degree with concentrations in specific areas and accompanying certificates,” Farmer said.

ACE is funded by three federal agencies that included specific requirements in the request for proposals. Two U. S. Department of Commerce agencies contributed 40 percent of the funds – Small Business Administration (SBA) and Economic Development Administration (EDA). The remaining funds came from the U. S. Department of Labor (DoL), specifically from H1B1 allocations with a goal of training U. S. citizens to replace those from other countries who are coming here because we do not have citizens to compete for the technical jobs. The SBA funding is for one year, EDA’s is for two years and DoL’s runs for four years.

“While we have three funding sources, we have a single, integrated work plan,” Farmer said.

Tech 20/20 is responsible for identifying six candidate companies, three of which will be enrolled in the organization’s Center for Entrepreneurial Growth. “This is a start-up activity, but it may not be a start-up company,” Farmer said.

UT CIS and IVI are responsible for looking at opportunities in the carbon fiber supply chain, specifically “identifying where there are gaps” that can be filled, he said.

The East Tennessee Economic Council will help convene groups of interested parties. “They’re supposed to have 18 meetings over the next 24 months,” Farmer said.

He said all of the activities – education, company creation and supply chain development – will be more successful because of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) world-leading research in low-cost carbon fiber and its soon-to-open $35 million Carbon Fiber Technology Facility.

The ACE service area includes the 16 counties that comprise the East Tennessee Development District plus Cumberland and Fentress Counties that are part of Roane State’s service area. Many of these counties have high unemployment rates.

“I’d love to see this work benefit the more rural counties,” Farmer said, citing E & L Technologies in Oakdale as an example. The company has been using carbon fiber for more than 15 years to serve a unique, niche market.

“If we can start 10 companies and they employ 10 people each, you can have a real impact,” he said. “If we can do this, we will be a success.”

He described the ACE program as similar akin to “parallel railroad tracks – helping create jobs for people while also training people for the jobs of the future.”

NEXT UP: The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) initiative.


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