Technical colleges could get a big boost under Tennessee's next governor.
Many of the top candidates are pledging to increase funding for the state's tech schools. They say putting more money into those institutions is the best way to close Tennessee's so-called skills gap.
Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd has one of the most concrete proposals: He wants to spend as much as half a billion dollars over two years upgrading technical colleges and building new campuses adjacent to the state's high schools.
"We've got too many communities in our state — like Johnson County, Grundy County — that have no technical education programs whatsoever. We have other schools that have old equipment."
Decades old, in some cases, which Boyd and other candidates say is a big problem for a state that's trying to attract sophisticated manufacturers.
Support for technical education is close to unanimous. At a gubernatorial forum earlier week, Democratic state Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, former Republican state Sen. Mae Beavers, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, House Speaker Beth Harwell and Franklin businessman Bill Lee also endorsed more spending on technical skills, in one form or another.
The candidates say better programs won't just produce better jobs. Some believe they could even reverse small-town brain drain.
"I was reading the other day in the Wall Street Journal where it said that one of the problems with encouraging young people to go to college is they leave the rural areas and go to college, and then they don't return," Harwell said at the forum.
Promoting technical colleges is not a new idea, however. Governor Bill Haslam has budgeted about $100 million over the past two years for new equipment, buildings and satellite campuses.
At least while they're campaigning, the candidates to succeed him say they'll extend that policy.