CAI members need to chip in on PIE costs

Posted 7/14/19

Although the Bradley County Commission Finance Committee has peeled the much-debated PIE Center from the coming 2019-20 budget proposal in order to lessen the impact of a potential property tax …

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CAI members need to chip in on PIE costs

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Although the Bradley County Commission Finance Committee has peeled the much-debated PIE Center from the coming 2019-20 budget proposal in order to lessen the impact of a potential property tax increase, it is not a dead issue.

Nor should it be.

Phase 1 will continue — as planned — using a $1 million appropriation from the state coffers of visionary Gov. Bill Lee and $1.3 million from Bradley County Schools. A later bond issue — calculated to total $16.6 million for Phase 2 — will follow as the 2020-21 fiscal year approaches, and the first debt service payment will be due in 2021-22.

Because of the PIE Center’s (Partnerships in Industry & Education Center) expense, Bradley County taxpayers appear divided. Most agree such a modern alternative to public education is a relevant goal because of the growing need for a better-skilled workforce to fill jobs of the future that require more vocational and technical training.

But it’s the tab — and who’s going to pick it up — that’s creating the fuss.

In truth, local taxpayers — residential and commercial — will bear the brunt of the cost through their property tax payments. It’s a big chunk, but it’s going for the best of causes; that being, education.

Here’s why: Change is coming. Life as we know it — especially in the job market — is taking the same twists and turns that economic development professionals have been predicting for years.

To improve efficiency, industry is rapidly moving to technology. Unskilled labor on assembly lines is evolving to a greater dependence on electronics; hence, young people whose education includes vocational and technical training will enjoy the advantage in landing these jobs of the future.

Let’s face it. Not all students will grow to be doctors, lawyers, health-care specialists, teachers, entrepreneurs, pharmaceutical researchers and administrative professionals. For these young people, the conventional four years of college and additional work in graduate school is not of personal interest.

What they need is a practical education in vocational and technical sciences that will qualify them for blue-collar jobs of the future. This is the type of training to be offered by the PIE Center.

Here’s the caveat: It is local industry that needs these types of workers. Subsequently, it should be local industry that foots some of the PIE Center bill. 

Two weeks ago, Cleveland Associated Industries — which has represented more than 29 manufacturers in its 50-year history — took a bold step by endorsing the immediate development of the PIE Center by Bradley County Schools.

The public statement — made in the form of a letter to Bradley County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull — took a realistic look at CAI members' needs regarding workers of tomorrow, and how the PIE Center can train them in ways that conventional classrooms cannot.

“This center will create an innovative student experience through collaboration with businesses, changing learning pathways, providing experiential learning in STEM, embedded work-based learning experiences and promotion of design thinking. Bradley County can be a model for the region, if not the county, in rethinking our approach to technical education.”

CAI’s endorsement should be taken seriously for what it is: An appeal by Bradley County’s largest employers to help them find, and train, future employees who can keep the companies efficient, competitive and growing.

The endorsement speaks highly of a group of manufacturers that want to remain in the Bradley County community. Yet, these employers need to take one step more: A commitment to ante up toward the PIE Center’s cost.

Let’s be clear: Companies are already signing on to finance the development of their respective training areas and to install equipment inside the PIE Center facility, in exchange for a no-rent agreement until their operations are launched. Likewise, they agree — in the event of closing their training operation — to keep their space intact … as an incentive for the next PIE Center partner.

It’s a generous gesture, one that anchors the partnership between education and business. Yet, we would ask these same local industries to chip in for the cost of bringing the PIE Center to fruition.

We offer no suggested amounts. We don't know how much each company can afford. We just know a $16.6 million bond issue — as calculated by Mayor D. Gary Davis — will strain Bradley County government, while taking its toll on taxpayers. 

If local companies — especially individual CAI members who signed the letter endorsing the PIE Center — could contribute toward some of the funding, local taxpayers could feel better about the partnership.

By chipping in on the PIE Center’s costs up front, local industry will be investing in our young people, in the workforce that our manufacturers desperately need and in the future of our hometown.


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