Trident Tech looking for aeronautical support from state

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published Jan. 23, 2014

Plans to build an aeronautical training center at Trident Technical College are for economic development across the state, not just for Lowcountry education, according to President Mary Thornley.

The president is pushing the state to pay for more than half of the proposed $79 million project.

“It’s been surprisingly easy to tell people in the Lowcountry and to garner their support. But this is statewide project. This is not a little Trident Tech project,” Thornley said Tuesday during an Enterprise Campus Authority board meeting.

Thornley said aerospace remains the region’s top recruitment target. She cited U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data that said South Carolina’s aerospace industry was the fastest growing industry in the nation from 2007 to 2012.

“Over 200 aerospace-related manufacturing companies and suppliers operate in South Carolina, and they employ 23,000 people. Out of 46 counties, we have aerospace activity in over 30 of them. This is bigger than Trident Tech and bigger than Charleston,” Thornley said.

Thornley said funding the center is still an uphill battle, even though many Charleston residents think it’s already a done deal.

“People are congratulating us on this project that we’re going to do,” Thornley said. “Well, we’re not ready to do it. We’re still in the raising-money and raising-support phase.”

In December, Charleston County Council members agreed to fund nearly a quarter of the project. Its payment of $18.75 million toward the center is contingent upon the state providing $51.25 million, or 64.9% of the total cost. The city of North Charleston is expected to add $1 million, and Trident Tech will need to contribute $4 million in cash and $4 million in land value.

“If we need to borrow $4 million for our share of this project, we should. My mother told me you should borrow $4 million any day of the week to get $79 million. That’s math I think we can all understand,” Thornley said.

Trident Tech recently completed a $3,500 land appraisal of the 25 acres of undeveloped land adjacent to its main campus. The site was established in 2006 as an enterprise campus and would be used for the aeronautical training center if funding is secured. Scott Poelker, vice president for finance and administration, said the land is valued at $4.125 million, or $165,000 per acre.

The 215,000-square-foot center is expected to provide training in aircraft assembly, aircraft maintenance and avionics for the college’s academic programs. Training for Boeing Co. employees and area vendors through the ReadySC program, which is housed at Trident Tech, is also expected to take place in the center.

“Boeing is not the aerospace cluster; Boeing is the magnet. They’re the magnet for vendors, suppliers and contractors drawn here to do business with them,” Thornley said. “We’re seven miles from Boeing, and we want to keep Boeing happy, so we can keep vendors, contractors and suppliers coming.”

Items discussed during Trident Tech’s Area Commission meeting:

  • The commission approved seven new certificates in applied science — athletic field maintenance, edible crops, artisanal foods, advanced cake and chocolate, culinary management, restaurant cooks and a certificate in medical engineering that will transfer to The Citadel toward a bachelor’s degree.
  • The Office of the State Engineer issued a certificate of occupancy to Trident Tech’s new nursing and science building on Jan. 6. The facility, built by China Construction America of South Carolina Inc., opened for classes on Jan. 13.
  • Enrollment was up 2.64% in fall 2012, up 1% in spring 2013 and up 2.55% in summer 2013 at Trident Tech when compared with the prior-year periods, according to Cathy Almquist, director of Institutional Research and Assessment. She said Trident Tech should prepare for a decline in enrollment, though, because of population demographics. Smaller class sizes are moving through the public school systems, Almquist said. There are some grades behind the current high school seniors and juniors that are larger. When those students are at the appropriate age to continue their education, the college should expect to see enrollment increases again.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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