The Missoula Chamber of Commerce has made support for funding for a new Missoula College its top legislative priority this year.
Six other chambers across the state added their support for the issue last week, endorsing a section of legislative agenda produced by the Missoula Chamber that says funding for new technical college facilities is “critical for our business community’s economy.”
The 27-point coalition of Montana chambers legislative agenda notes the organizations’ stances on several large issues and will be used to lobby during the 2013 legislative session.
Support through the agenda of the other six chambers “gives a voice across the state of Montana,” said Kim Latrielle, Missoula Chamber president and chief executive officer.
An updated Missoula College, which is the only two-year college in the state that hasn’t received significant upgrades in its lifetime, is vital to both existing, incoming and future businesses, Latrielle said.
A portion of House Bill 14, introduced by Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, asks for $29 million in funds for construction of a new Missoula College and authorization to raise the remainder of the cost of construction through fundraising and other sources.
The “higher education” section of the chambers’ legislative agenda says that the chambers support an “effective, accessible, and affordable workforce education and training system.”
“Montana’s technical colleges are lagging behind obtaining state funding for major upgrades and modernization to help meet tightening skilled labor needs, both regionally and throughout Montana. The chambers believe that new facilities offering additional post-secondary workforce training and taking its equal place in the statewide 2-year post-secondary system is absolutely critical for our business community’s economy as well as our current and future workforce,” the agenda said.
Along with hosting a listening session last November about the importance of the college for business, the Missoula Chamber is encouraging members to write letters and contact legislators to voice support for House Bill 14.
“Letters are starting to flow from Missoula,” Latrielle said, adding that she hopes the unified legislative agenda will help to better stir up support for the bill from representatives around the state.
While the chamber supports building a new Missoula College, it hasn’t taken a position on its location, Latrielle said.
A vocal group has decried the University of Montana’s decision to put the college on the University Golf Course. Latrielle hopes that controversy doesn’t kill the bill.
“Let us get this passed then we can have the community discussion. Why would we take the chance of losing something for the community over a location?” Latrielle said.
Passing HB14 will require a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate because bonding requires the state to go into debt. HB14 is currently making its way through the House Appropriations Committee.
This is the third time funding has been requested for the college.
“Some people are saying third time’s the charm,” Missoula College Dean Barry Good said. “This is the third time of going up and we’re really very hopeful that this time we’re going to get the funding we need to serve the citizenry, the students of Missoula and this region and of Montana, absolutely of Montana.”
A lot of business are looking to two-year colleges to find specially trained employees, Good said.
“One of our key things we do, out of the many things we do, is work with the business community, work with industries and respond to their needs,” Good said. “We give the skills and education (students) need for them to go out and get a job. A meaningful, high paying job, not only a job a career, when they leave us. We work very closely with business and industry to make this happen.”
Any support the Missoula business community can provide as HB14 is debated is helpful, Good said.
“It is important to us to let the Legislature know they support us, yes it’s very important,” Good said. “We would hope that would happen.”