Dan Epright, The Murfreesboro Post, February 14, 2017
Governor Bill Haslam traveled to Smyrna Thursday to share a meal, tour the brand new Smyrna campus of Tennessee College of Applied Technology at 663 Ken Pilkerton Dr., and praise those involved in TCAT’s creation.
The event was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Smyrna during its regular weekly meeting, which coincidentally was sponsoring a Job Shadow Day for students of their adopted school, Smyrna West Alternative School. The students, in addition to hearing and seeing the governor of Tennessee, shadowed rotarians at their jobs, including the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport, Southern Veterinarian Center and other operations.
“We were really glad the scheduling all worked out the way it did,” said Rotary of Smyrna President John Black. “The governor’s education and employment remarks, and the job shadowing for the students, really complimented each other.”
Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed welcomed Haslam and thanked him for coming.
“Governor Haslam, we would like to welcome you to the town of Smyrna, and specifically, to our new TCAT facility,” said Reed. “The Town Council would like to thank you as well as Nissan for your continued investment in our community.
“This facility represents quite a few things for our community. It represents economic development, it represents advanced training for current workers, and it also represents training of individuals to meet our workforce needs across the state of Tennessee,” she continued. “Your commitment to higher education continues to make Tennessee stronger both academically and economically.”
Rep. Mike Sparks believes TCAT will benefit the community in many ways.
“This school here is so important to me, and to our county commissioners, because it’s going to touch the young lives here today,” said Sparks. “I think Governor Haslam will go down as the education governor. With this facility right here, as well as his funding of growth at Motlow Community College… he’s really touched a lot of lives.”
Haslam thanked Nissan profusely for their partnership and lauded the new facilities.
“This really matches what we are trying to do,” he said. “We are trying to train for the jobs that really are available; we are trying to make certain that those opportunities are available to everyone regardless of your background.”
The Smyrna TCAT facilities closely match Nissan’s industrial needs at their Smyrna plant, directly across Nissan Boulevard. Students work on state of the art equipment similar to what is installed at the industrial giant, which Haslam called the largest single automotive production plant in all of North America.
“One of the jobs of the governor is to help define where we think we are as a state,” he said. “Today in Tennessee, more people have a job than have ever had a job in the history of the state… not only are we adding jobs, but we are adding good paying jobs. Some of that is big companies like Nissan, where we see the impact, but even more important in Tennessee, is small business growth.”
Haslam said Tennessee is the fastest growing state in the country in terms of small business jobs, and the fastest improving in terms of math, english and science skills among students.
“We shrank the gap between minority students and white students, and in science, our female students scored just as high as the males. Regardless of racial background, regardless of sex, we are preparing the workforce employers need.
“We introduced Tennessee Promise two years ago,” he said. “This spring, we will have our very first Tennessee Promise graduates get their associate’s degrees and 33,000 more students across the state are in community colleges and Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology because of the Tennessee Promise. The good news is, the two years free college doesn’t just apply to community colleges, but it applies to TCATs just like this one. And, we announced last week in the State of the State address, that we are expanding Tennessee Promise so that community colleges and TCATs will be free, not just for high school graduates, but for adults of all ages.”
Tennessee Promise is a component of the governor’s Drive to 55 program, with a goal of seeing 55 percent of all Tennesseans obtain a college degree or a technical school certificate.
The program offers two years of tuition-free community or technical college to Tennessee high school graduates. Tennessee Promise is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning it covers college costs not met from Pell, HOPE or TSAA, according to information supplied by the governor’s office. As part of the program, students are provided with a mentor who supports them during the college application process. Smyrna business, education and community leaders have taken on the mentor responsibilities.
Another Drive to 55 program, Tennessee Reconnect, helps adults complete a postsecondary degree or credential. Tennessee has between 900,000 and 1 million adults with some college but no degree. It is impossible to achieve the mission of the Drive to 55 without re-engaging these students and helping them finish their degrees or certificates.
Through the program adults can attend and earn a diploma or certificate at any of the state’s 27 colleges of applied technology free of tuition and fees.