Dr. Joe Gilgour, president of Mineral Area College, addresses those who attended a meeting in July to update on progress made on the Piney River Technical Center. To his right is Dr. Allen Moss, superintendent of the Houston School District. 

A technical center in downtown Houston that would provide educational opportunities in the region — ranging from workforce development to college degrees — received support last week from about 30 education, business and community leaders.

The Piney River Technical Center is an ambitious project set to open in a 47,000 square foot building recently acquired by the Industrial Development Authority of the City of Houston. A broad cross-section of the region pledged support for the project that would bring technical skills to students who don’t desire to attend college, training for in-demand jobs such as healthcare, welding and tech and the opportunity to earn a four-year college degree without leaving Texas County.

The detailed plan was highlighted during a two-hour briefing on the project from leaders from the City of Houston, Texas County Memorial Hospital, Houston School District and Mineral Area College. Rob Harrington, the city’s director of economic development, led the presentation at the Drury University meeting room, which is part of the building targeted for the development.

The project, for Dr. Allen Moss and the Houston board of education, just makes sense for a district that is busing its students for technical training to West Plains.

About two years ago, recognizing the need for vocational and technical teaching, the district entered into an agreement to use a career center overseen by the West Plains School District. Moss explained to a cross-section of the county at the meeting that many HHS students were graduating who were not exposed to skilled trades.

“Our kids want that opportunity even if they have to ride a bus for two hours,” Moss said.

The idea of a regional center near the school campus has administrators excited. Currently, the district pays about $1,700-$1,800 a year for each student to use the Howell County school plus the cost of transportation.

Wes Murray, CEO of Texas County Memorial Hospital, said he has a tremendous feeling about the collaboration on the project. Murray said the hospital’s interest includes helping school districts and the opportunity to increase the number of students receiving a healthcare-related education.


Rob Harrington, economic development director for the City of Houston, gives a tour of quarters slated to become the Piney River Technical Center on Spruce Street. Those attending last Thursday were able to see space already occupied by Drury University and the rest of the 47,000 square foot building that was recently acquired by the Houston Development Authority of the City of Houston. 

He said many of its employees began in the same place – becoming a CNA, advancing to become a LPN and later earning an RN degree. He said the hospital is ready to support the venture, whose planning began about nine months ago, with some donations of equipment and supplies. He also noted that some RNs at the hospital have already stepped in to offer their skills to teach and are working on gaining the proper certifications. He said it is their way of giving back to programs that advanced their careers.

Dr. Joe Gilgour, president of Mineral Area College, pledged his institution’s support for the project. Texas County is included in its service region, one of 12 regions in the state.


“If there’s anything we can do for workforce development, for education in this region, we want to be a part of it. Even beyond this project,” Gilgour said.

Gilgour said Gov. Mike Parson’s commitment to workforce development and several initiatives that will soon roll out. Gilgour said that makes it a perfect time to launch the Piney River Technical Center. He said many students don’t have a desire to go to four-year college, but they are interested about learning a skill.

“We’re very excited about this,” Gilgour said. “I think we can do some really cool things with high school students. Of course, that is kind of where it starts. And helping out with those two-hour bus rides and keeping those students engaged and in class more than on the bus, which also helps I’m assuming with the expensive bus ride as well.”

The state’s A+ Plus program will pay two years of an education and then students can transfer to Drury University, which already operates in the building. Leaders with Drury University attended the meeting.

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Roger McMillian, dean of career and technical education for Mineral Area College, said the prospects for students are tremendous and noted that parents need to recognize that the opportunities may not match the perception of tech schools from their generation.

“That stigma is still there that these are dirty shop jobs, McMillian said. “This is high tech stuff that is going on.”

Adult learners also will have opportunities without leaving the community, Gilgour said. Although details have not been finalized, the state will soon provide financial incentives to adults who want to get an education. An official with the Missouri Department of Economic Development told the group the program will be geared for someone who has been in the workforce for a while and wants to return to the classroom.       

“If there’s anything we can do for workforce development, for education in this region, we want to be a part of it. Even beyond this project,” Dr. Joe Gilgour of Mineral Area College. 

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