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Burgess Backs $200K Gift to Motlow for Smyrna Expansion

Reprinted from Daily News Journal, Written by, Scott Broden, January 25, 2012

MURFREESBORO - Motlow State Community College picked up key funding support to expand its Smyrna campus this week when Rutherford County Mayor Ernest Burgess proposed a $200,000 donation.

"What else could be more important than properly equipping our citizens of Rutherford County with the tools of education, so they can get jobs to provide for themselves and their families in the future," Burgess said during an interview Wednesday in his office at the County Courthouse on the Public Square.

The County Commission's Health & Education Committee endorsed the plan in a vote Tuesday night. The commission's Budget, Finance & Investment Committee will review the issue next when it meets Feb. 9 at the County Courthouse.

For the funding to be official, the education committee recommendation must be ratified by the majority of the 21-member commission, which is scheduled to meet next on Feb. 16 at the courthouse.

The fast-growing community college opened its Smyrna campus off Sam Ridley Parkway in 2006 and currently serves around 2,000 students seven days a week in a packed 17,000 square feet, Motlow President MaryLou Apple told the commission's education committee, according to the meeting minutes.

Motlow, which has its main campus based in Lynchburg, seeks a $10.4 million expansion in Smyrna that will add 35,000 square feet using mostly state funds. The college needs to raise $397,350 to complete a state-required local funding match of $2.7 million, Apple told the commissioners.

Local learning

Burgess noted that 87 percent of Motlow's students are county residents.

County Commissioner Rhonda Allen, who is a member of the education committee, agreed during a Wednesday phone interview that her Smyrna hometown needs funding support for an expanded community college campus.

'I think it's a direct investment,' said Allen, noting that Motlow nursing students face having to take some courses at other campuses outside Smyrna until the Rutherford location can be expanded. "You want to be able to keep those folks in Rutherford County."

The mayor proposed giving Motlow $100,000 this year from development taxes that collect $1,500 per new home. The other $100,000 would be part of the next budget year that begins July 1.

"All of us know without the proper education and training you can't prosper," said Burgess, who completed a graduate degree in math at UT-Knoxville.

Residents need to grasp technology in particular to succeed in finding a higher-paying job, the mayor added.

"It's mandatory," Burgess said. "Our ability to continue to attract those types of jobs from existing companies and those wishing to relocate here is very dependent upon our ability to train and educate a workforce."

Companies looking to expand or establish operations do examine the level of education and training level of the local workforce, the mayor added.

"That's critical in their decision making process in how they are going to grow and where they are going to grow," said Burgess, a former executive with Murfreesboro-based National Healthcare Corporation.

Motlow fundraising

Burgess noted that many have contributed money to help Motlow reach its funding goal to expand its Smyrna campus, including the Rutherford County Industrial Development Board donating $157,610 and the local Christy-Houston Foundation pledging $587,050.

Those contributions also blend with the town of Smyrna giving the community college an additional 14 acres for the expansion to go along with the 12 acres the town provided to build the campus.

All of Motlow's fundraising will combine with a $7.6 million grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents.

"We're at the last end of this journey," Burgess said. "Motlow has already raised a lot of money."

The Motlow president also is requesting the Murfreesboro City Council provide $200,000 toward the goal, according to the education committee minutes.

A phone message was left for Apple at Motlow Wednesday, but the president was not available for comment.

Murfreesboro City Manager Rob Lyons confirmed Wednesday that the Motlow president sent a formal proposal to the city requesting a $200,000 donation.

"During the original development of Motlow's Smyrna campus, the city of Murfreesboro made an investment to help locate the facility in Rutherford County," Lyons said. "We know that many Murfreesboro residents attend Motlow College, and it has been an excellent addition to the County. An educated workforce is essential to our economic development efforts."

The city will consider this request for funds, along with the requests by other outside agencies, during the development of its next fiscal year budget that starts July 1, Lyons added.

"This is the normal and typical process for such funding requests," Lyons said. "Many outside agencies provide valuable services to our community, and we are able to fund many, but not all of them. While we cannot make a funding decision on this request until we evaluate the overall budget, we know that Motlow College's continued growth and planned expansion are good for Rutherford County."