From the Publisher March 2012

Fox Valley Tech plan needs your support

Timing, scope of project make for a sensible investment in the future of region’s economy

It’s not often B2B editorializes and endorses a position on a local referendum, because so often they affect one K-12 school district or one municipality that represents just a small fraction of our coverage area.

But in the case of the Fox Valley Technical College referendum on April 3 asking voter approval to borrow $66.5 million to finance seven capital expansion projects, the issue affects the property taxes for nearly half of our readers, as well as the future job training potential for a wider area of the region.

And although it’s unpopular to support an initiative to raise taxes when the performance of the overall economy remains uncertain, we believe the Fox Valley Tech proposal is a relatively small investment that will enable substantial economic and workforce development opportunities specifically benefitting the New North region. Voters residing within the FVTC district communities of the Fox Cities, Oshkosh, Chilton and outlying areas should check ‘Yes’ to support this building project.

As a measure of full disclosure, I need to remind readers that FVTC has advertised some of its programs and events in the pages of B2B during the past 10 years. But that doesn’t change our view of the importance of the institution’s role in growing its service offerings and enrollment by admirable lengths during the past decade. Fox Valley Tech needs taxpayer assistance to expand its training focus even further.

The largest component of the college development proposal is a $32 million Public Safety Training Center at the Outagamie County Regional Airport that would provide fully-integrated tactical training for both students and working professionals in law enforcement, fire protection and emergency medical services. It would be the only facility of its kind in the Midwest, and would likely attract public safety professionals from around the state for training sessions of various lengths. Besides enhancing training of our local public safety, the proposed facility would help put heads in beds and increase tourism dollars in the region.

Another component, the nearly $12 million Health Simulation and Technology Center, aims to expand and improve training for the waiting list of students interested in pursuing a career in a health care profession. The proposed $6 million expansion of the transportation center will allow the college to double the capacity in its truck driving and diesel technician programs, both of which turn out graduates in heavy demand across the state. Additional projects will help expand agricultural training facilities, where enrollment has grown 87 percent since 2008, as well as to help prepare for future growth at the school’s Oshkosh and Chilton outreach campuses.

Is the referendum proposal from FVTC perfect? No, and few referendum proposals from any school district or municipality ever are simply because there’s so many moving parts to these often complex facilities improvement projects. While we would have preferred separate referenda asking for approval on each project, the all-or-nothing approach taken by FVTC isn’t enough to turn our support against it. This proposal is just too important for the future of our regional economy.

Fox Valley Technical College served 53,000 students and working professionals from the region in 2011, more than any other of the state’s 16 technical colleges. It could serve more, but limitations on program capacity as a result of fully utilized facilities could severely restrict necessary growth in the future. That would be a shame for our region, which stands to gain more from transitioning into a skills-based economy than relying on many of the same job-preparedness standards of yesteryear, which workers in even China, India and Mexico now possess.

If the New North aims to remain globally competitive, it requires a continual evolution of the skills standards of our workforce, which in turn requires continual improvement of the advanced training and education to provide those skills. Fox Valley Tech has a proven 100-year track record of efficiently and cost-effectively providing such skills training to our local workforce without compromising quality. But it needs the upgraded facilities to continue to evolve its mission.

The timing couldn’t be better to borrow at historically low rates of interest, or to build during a period in the construction industry in which firms are bidding on projects more competitively than ever.

The difference between a stellar, globally-recognized workforce in northeast Wisconsin in 2020 versus an average workforce that struggles to compete for advanced manufacturing jobs with countries like Mexico or India could be determined in this referendum. It’s time to stand up for the future of our region’s workforce and vote ‘Yes’ on April 3.