As more tech jobs continue to come to Middle Tennessee, officials say more workers are needed to keep up with the rising demand.
Local business leaders and educators gathered at Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin last week for the Let’s Talk Tech forum.
The event, sponsored by the Gallatin Economic Development Agency and the college, focused on workforce needs of the local technology sector and ways to grow workforce necessary for the growing industry.
“You don’t have to move to California to work in tech,” Facebook Community Development Regional Manager Katie Comer told those in attendance last week. “There are such a variety of jobs in this field. It’s not only people behind computers.”
Last year, there were 35,190 tech workers employed in the Nashville metro area – an increase of 36 percent since 2015, according to the recently released Scoring Tech Talent annual report from CBRE Group. Most of those new jobs appeared within the last two years.
The report also found that there were 5,007 more new tech positions than local graduates to fill them during the last five years.
“Our data centers have a variety of high-tech jobs available,” Comer said about the variety of available jobs throughout the industry. “And it’s more than just working with the data servers; it’s also heating and air conditioning specialists, electricians and electrical engineers.”
According to the report, there were 5.4 million tech workers across the United States in 2020. The number of workers in the field has increased 13 percent during the last five years – more than double the overall national job growth rate.
Panelists noted during the forum last week that there are many ways to get into a career in tech, with some being even quicker than the typical two or four-year degree path.
The average age of a student in Vol State’s computer programs is 31, according to Andy White, dean of business and technology at the college. Many students work in construction or other fields and take classes at night to increase their skills.
“I started at a two-year school,” Servpro Chief Information Officer Jeff Fields added. “You have to be open to change and new things. That’s the key to working in technology.”
This year, Volunteer State Community College is expanding its academic offerings in computer information technology. Those include a wide range of certifications and degree programs, including a concentration in cyber defense.
The college also partners with the Greater Nashville Technology Council for a program called Go TECH. The IT Infrastructure Support Professional course focuses on computer fundamentals and infrastructure and is free for selected applicants thanks to a state grant.
“We’ve got a great faculty team, a great family of programs and we’re working to spread the word… and help more students succeed in those programs,” White said. “We’ve got what they need to meet the workforce needs. We’ve just got to make sure we deliver it in a way that increases success rates.”
The next president of Volunteer State Community College could be chosen as early as next week.
The Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) is scheduled to consider the appointment of Orinthia Montague as the college’s next president during a special-called meeting on July 27.
Montague, who has served as the president of Tompkins Cortland Community College in N.Y. since 2017, is being recommended for the position by TBR Chancellor Flora Tydings following a more than three-month search.
“My passion is about helping and giving hope to individuals,” Montague said during a public forum held at Vol State’s Gallatin campus on June 23. “I’m excited about the opportunity to work in a system… that gets the importance of community colleges and is poised to continue to serve their populations in a very unique way. What our students need from us is so varied and diverse and that’s my background – varied and diverse.”
During her time at Tompkins Cortland Community College, Montague helped reverse a decade-long enrollment decline, establish new community partnerships, led the construction of a new childcare center and secured more than $3 million in philanthropic donations, according to a news release.
Prior to that, she served as the dean of students at Normandale Community College in Minn. before becoming vice president of student affairs and chief diversity officer at the school. She has also worked at the University of Missouri – St. Louis along with several other education-related jobs in the St. Louis area.
Montague was among three finalists for the position who were selected by a search committee last month. The other candidates included San Antonio College Vice President for Academic Success Jothany Blackwood and Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus CEO Irene Rios.
Following separate campus visits and forums in late June, Tydings conducted interviews with each of the finalists and reviewed feedback from the public and campus communities before making her hiring recommendation.
“We are fortunate to have had an excellent pool of candidates and three outstanding finalists, each of whom could well serve the Vol State community as its next president,” Tydings said in a prepared statement about the selection process. “I believe that Dr. Montague was particularly well received during the campus forums and that her broad range of college leadership experience and work with students and her vision will help her lead Vol State to even higher levels in serving its students and its communities.”
If approved, Montague would become the fourth president in Vol State’s 50-year history. She would succeed Jerry Faulkner who announced earlier this year that he would retire as president of the school after more than nine years. His last day will be Aug. 31.
The comprehensive two-year public community college primarily serves 11 northern Middle Tennessee counties. In addition to its main campus in Gallatin, Vol State has additional campuses in Cookeville, Livingston and Springfield. The college has more than 450 full-time employees, including more than 180 full-time faculty members, and operates on a budget of more than $90 million.
The Tennessee Board of Regents meeting on Tuesday, July 27 will be held virtually using Microsoft Teams at 2:30 p.m. The meeting will be open to the public and live streamed and archived at www.tbr.edu. Anyone wishing to access to the virtual meeting itself should contact the Sonja Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 615-366-3927 by 4:30 p.m. on Monday, July 26 for more information.
Update (Monday, July 26): A preliminary master development plan and rezoning request for Chandler Marketplace was pulled from the Gallatin Planning Commission agenda prior to its meeting on Monday, July 26 in order to better address traffic concerns related the development, according to a representative for the project.
A new mixed-use development featuring 266 apartment units, a hotel, and various other commercial uses is being proposed at the corner of GreenLea Boulevard and Harris Lane in Gallatin.
According to a preliminary master development plan and rezoning request submitted to the city’s planning department, Chandler Marketplace would include 120,100-square-feet of combined retail, restaurant and office space along with 25 apartment buildings across 42.8 acres of vacant property near State Route 386.
The residential portion of the development would also contain a clubhouse and pool along with a proposed putting green and pickleball court.
“It definitely doesn’t look like your standard multi-family unit,” project representative Andy Leath with GreenLID Design told members of the Gallatin Planning Commission last week. “I know (apartments) is a dirty word in Gallatin right now, but… the rental on these things is like a mortgage. These are apartments, but they are apartments by choice. People that are going to live here want the amenities.”
In addition to a 20,000-square-foot hotel, the commercial area of the project would include seven retail buildings, three restaurant buildings and two office buildings on a total of approximately 17 acres, according to plans for the project.
The development would have one main entrance along Harris Lane along with a right-in, right-out only access onto GreenLea Boulevard.
During a work session last week, some city officials expressed concern about how traffic in the area could be impacted as a result of the limited access to the development.
“That (main entrance) is going to be forcing a lot of traffic out to that intersection pretty close to GreenLea Boulevard,” City Planner Bill McCord said during the meeting on July 12. “That needs to be looked into a little bit more and how we can better distribute those trips.
“Unfortunately, they are kind of trapped in here and they have a large piece of property with limited options for good design for access.”
The Gallatin Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on whether to recommend approval of the plans for Chandler Marketplace during its next meeting on Monday, July 26. The project would then go to the city council for a final decision.
If approved, construction could start later this summer and would take an estimated five years to complete, according to plans for the development.
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security plans to expand its driver services center in Sumner County to increase capacity at the facility, according to a spokesperson for the agency.
A 1,500-square-foot addition to the building, located at 855 North Blue Jay Way in Gallatin, along with 14 new parking spaces were unanimously approved by the city’s planning commission last month.
“More parking over there is probably a good thing,” Gallatin Planning Commission Vice Chairman Matt Harris said about the project. “It seems like every time I drive by there, it’s overflowing.”
The expansion would bring the total number of parking spaces at the site up to 70 and would be “consistent” with other similarly sized driver services centers in the area, according to Josh King, assistant city planner.
Construction of the building and parking additions are expected to be completed with the next year, according to Wes Moster, communications director for the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
The full-service center, which serves all of Sumner County, was relocated more than a decade ago and has averaged 62,000 transactions annually during the last three years, Moster added.
It offers all services except for the processing of reinstatement transactions and skills testing for commercial driver’s licenses.