By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
Championing a workforce to help grow the region’s science and technology assets has been one of the priorities of the Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC).
Now, thanks to a grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the activities of the TVC Community College Consortium are being accelerated.
“There are more than 30 community colleges in the 10 Congressional Districts that comprise the TVC,” said Lou Rabinowitz, the Consortium’s part-time Executive Director. The initiative is co-chaired by Chris Whaley, President of Roane State Community College, and Anthony Wise, President of Pellissippi State Community College.
With the ARC funding, the Consortium can develop a more formal structure, launch a webpage, and develop a robust database that reflects the various institutional areas of expertise and interest.
Rabinowitz says the database will be critical to achieving one of the Consortium’s objectives – coming together in teams to pursue grant opportunities.
“We’ll be putting together virtual organizations to bid on proposals,” he explains, adding that aligning institutional expertise is just one part of the equation.
From his previous service on the Roane State staff, Rabinowitz knows that time is critical in developing successful proposals. Instead of spending time determining the mechanisms to allow its members to collaborate, Rabinowitz believes the TVC Consortium should develop the frameworks in advance.
This translates into creating ground rules and business agreement documents ahead of any solicitations, so the proposal teams can concentrate on the content of their responses. Such an approach will make for a better proposal, Rabinowitz believes.
Another priority of the Consortium will be the sharing of resources between institutions. Since such a process involves higher education governing bodies in five states, those procedures also need to be addressed in advance.
Rabinowitz came-up with the idea for the TVC Community College Consortium during his tenure at Roane State. The all-volunteer organization had a couple of sessions – in Huntsville in 2011 and Somerset in 2012.
“It generated a lot of buzz,” he says. Now that the group has aligned with ARC, there’s renewed opportunity. The federal agency is engaged with two other organizations – National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship and Community Colleges of Appalachia.
“ARC urged us to work with them,” Rabinowitz said. “There is strength in numbers.”
The major science and technology and venture development assets in the TVC region are concentrated in Oak Ridge, Huntsville, Tullahoma, and around the region’s universities. One of the persistent challenges is helping the more rural areas of the Corridor become more aware and engaged with these assets through partnerships, technology transfer opportunities, and on-going collaboration.
“One of the selling points to the ARC for their support of the initiative is that every county in the Corridor’s five-state footprint is served by one of the 30 plus community colleges,” Rabinowitz said. “These colleges are encouraged to work through the new TVC consortium, and the other partnering organizations supported by ARC, to become ‘gateways’ for these rural areas to access these science, technology and venture development resources.”
In addition to teaming on grant proposals, workforce programs and other efforts, the TVC sees the greatest potential for the initiative is to facilitate the expansion of the impact of these primarily federal-funded activities to parts of the Corridor that have been underserved in the past.