Grant sets in motion new career connection labs for Dan River Region students

The Dan River Region will get two new career connection labs for middle-school students following approval of state grant money.

Danville and Pittsylvania County are among dozens of localities that will get a share of about $6.7 million for Virginia communities from the Growth and Opportunity for Virginia fund (GO Virginia) to pay for the labs.

“We’re very excited about the opportunities this is going to bring to our region,” said Troy Simpson, director of advanced manufacturing at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

GO Virginia grants support regional entrepreneurship, workforce and talent-development initiatives in regions throughout the state.

Money for the city and county will also pay for a GO TEC website to connect parents to places where they can send their children for training in technology.

The website will include videos from regional employers and information on targeted career pathways, said Julie Brown, director of advanced learning at the Institute.

Danville and Pittsylvania County will be even more attractive for industries looking to locate in the region with the website and the career connection labs, Brown said.

“The opportunity to show prospective companies a talent pipeline that starts in middle school is our competitive advantage,” Brown said. “We can document a critical mass of talent in targeted sectors, pulling from multiple GO Virginia regions. The GO TEC brand will be another tool that economic developers can use to recruit new businesses to the participating regions.”

The two new career connection labs will be at Bonner Middle School and at another location in Pittsylvania County, which has not been determined, Simpson said. They will expose students to welding, robotics and automation, health sciences, mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering and electrical engineering.

“We can start having the opportunity to expose our middle-school students to applied learning with today’s relevant technology,” Simpson said.

He said he anticipates seeing the two new labs open up this fall.

The region will have a total of four career connection labs when the new ones are added. Existing labs are at Westwood Middle School in Danville and at Chatham Middle School in the county.

The GO TEC initiative will strengthen dual-enrollment and postsecondary pathways in advanced manufacturing (welding, precision machining, robotics and automation), and information technology.

“The expectation should be a larger number of students entering the workforce with desired skill sets,” Brown said.

The career connection labs for middle-school students will offer up to nine week-long modules for sixth-graders, each including career development components, she said.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students will be able to develop skills on equipment, Brown said. In addition, they will also be learning from content connected to and supported by business and industry, she said.

Included in the $6.7 million in GO Virginia funding, is nearly $4.9 million in regions one, three, and four, which include nearly 20 localities including Danville and Pittsylvania County. Region three — besides Danville and Pittsylvania County — also includes Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg and Patrick counties, Martinsville and other localities.

As for the state grant money overall, it requires a one-to-one match from a non-state entity such as federal, private or nonprofit money, and it requires at least 20 percent of that match to come from local partners including a city, town, county or an industrial or economic development authority, said Liz Povar, contract manager for the Region Three Council.

“They want to see that the local partners have skin in the game,” Povar said Thursday.

The GO Virginia projects in all the regions will be over two years.

Money includes a share of $965,505 at to be split among several entities including Danville Community College and the Institute; $747,968 for robotics and mechatronic engineering at DCC, Danville, Pittsylvania County and Southern Virginia Community College; $177,957 for teacher training centers at the Institute, Danville and Pittsylvania County and other localities; about $2 million for career connections labs in Danville and Pittsylvania County and Martinsville and several other localities.

John Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact him at or (434) 791-7987.

Additional Information