News from Culpeper County


Fortifying Partnerships: Workforce Development in the CTZ

May 3, 2024

Culpeper Tech Zone

This blog is the third in a series of articles spotlighting Culpeper’s creation of the Culpeper Tech Zone (CTZ). The CTZ is a 690-acre campus designated to host data centers, public works entities, and educational institutions supporting the county’s STEM initiatives.

The Culpeper Tech Zone (CTZ) will welcome five new data center businesses into Culpeper County, providing opportunities for career growth in the data centers and the business fields that support them. Through strategic planning and dynamic partnerships, Culpeper County Economic Development (CCED) is fortifying workforce development opportunities between the incoming companies and two education centers in the county: the Culpeper Technical Education Center (CTEC) and Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center.

Culpeper Technical Education Center

Culpeper Technical Education Center

Through these partnerships, Culpeper youth and adults can explore the industry’s possibilities, gain the knowledge necessary to secure employment in a lucrative field, and build their careers locally. Both educational institutions are already located in the area designated for the CTZ, making them neighbors to the data centers.

“A critical goal of the Culpeper Tech Zone is to create a symbiotic environment of education, experience, and progress,” said Bryan Rothamel, CEcD and director of Culpeper Economic Development. “Students will have an access point to gain valuable real-world insight, and the data centers can help prepare a skilled workforce in Culpeper to answer their ongoing labor demands and push our economy forward.”

From early childhood, Culpeper County Public School System fosters youth awareness of science and technology through STEM pathways and community events. Once students enter high school, CTEC is a conduit to specialized education in technology and trade fields. Using hands-on instruction and authentic work experiences, CTEC prepares students to enter the workforce directly or equips them to pursue further education after graduation.

“The barriers that might exist in other communities aren’t going to exist in Culpeper because our school system and the economic development office already partner so well together,” said Randi Richards-Lutz, director of career and technical education for Culpeper County Public School CTE.

Shaun Summerscales, Principal of CTEC, adds, “There is a foundation of workforce education right on these two campuses. Serendipitously, the space around us has been developed to support that, too. The determination to make this a technology zone that fits with the educational pieces that we have here makes sense.”

Germanna Community College's Daniel Technology Center

Germanna Community College’s Daniel Technology Center

Nearby, Germanna’s Daniel Technology Center offers college-level students workforce development and training opportunities. This program extends the reach of the CTZ’s hands-on opportunities to enrolled students living in the City of Fredericksburg and Caroline, Culpeper, King George, Madison, Orange, Spotsylvania, and Stafford counties — a combined geographical area roughly the size of Delaware.

The relationship between Germanna, CTEC, and local businesses is critical to providing students with a comprehensive understanding of potential career pathways. “A young person can really begin to envision themselves in these livelihoods once they’ve seen what’s out there,” shares Summerscales. “When business partners in our area are willing to provide that vision for our students, that’s life-changing for them in a lot of ways.” He adds, “We have great partners right now who very much understand that.”

Adam Cook, managing director of development for Peterson Companies, one of the incoming data centers, notes, “Culpeper’s focus on workforce education and technical training programs is fantastic and necessary.” He continues, “Having technician certification programs in place allows data center operators to scale our operations efficiently. A qualified, local workforce to staff the hundreds of well-paying jobs the Culpeper Tech Zone will create is an essential component to everyone’s success.”

Construction is set to begin in the CTZ in the next two to three years. As the data centers develop, schools are considering how they can prepare students for the influx of jobs coming into Culpeper.

“For Germanna, it is a really all hands on deck to make sure that we have the skilled labor ready to support the building and maintenance of the data center facilities,” shares Tina Lance, dean of professional & technical studies and workforce development for Germanna Community College. “Across the board, from skilled trades including fiber optic installers to data center technicians, our workforce is ramping up to meet the needs of employers coming into the community.”

Awareness is a large part of preparing that workforce. While the data center industry maintains a foothold in Northern Virginia, awareness of possible careers within the profession is growing. Lance affirms, “The paramount thing right now is to create awareness around the industry. What is fiber? What does a career in data center technology look like? Many times, people aren’t necessarily aware of what those jobs are. We need to create community awareness that the data centers are coming and the many jobs they bring with them.”

“These are multi-year construction projects that will bring a lot of HVAC, electrical, and other trade jobs with them in the next few years,” adds Lance. “When you think of data centers, many immediately think of a technology workforce. But the data centers need all kinds of jobs and skills to run their facilities.”

Students demonstrating work during the CTEC Skills Showcase.

Students in the HVAC and electrical lab demonstrating work during the CTEC Skills Showcase.

CTEC and Germanna’s well-established trades courses graduate many students who can assist in building construction and long-term maintenance of data facilities. “We’re working towards a student-to-apprenticeship program, specifically with our electrical course, where students can start working on both the academic and on-the-job hours necessary to complete the first year of their electrical pathway,” said Lance.

Brett Burnette, director of development for CloudHQ, shares, “We try to hire local as much as we can. We have about two years between when we know a data center will be coming to an area and when the building will be fully operational. The schools present a great opportunity for us to find good, local employees while increasing awareness about the data center industry and how it can be a great career path and provide substantial benefits to a local community.”

Adam Cook estimates that the development of the Culpeper Tech Zone will require thousands of construction professionals, engineers, and consultants.The massive workforce need will remain after construction is complete,” he says. “Each data center building requires approximately 50 full-time positions to operate the facility. A skilled team of direct employees and mission-critical service contractors are necessary to support the sophisticated hardware and ongoing operations of each data center.”

The CCED, CTEC, Germanna, and the data center companies are beginning to flesh out their partnerships. From internships and apprenticeships to data center professional-led courses, all parties are enthusiastic about co-venture options.

“This helps our economic growth here in the county. It hasn’t always been the case, but we’re finding that more of our students want to stay in this community,” shares Summerscales. “By having this new partnership, more students will be able to stay in Culpeper, work here, and raise their families here.”

Visit the websites of Germanna Community College and the Culpeper Technical Education Center for more information on their workforce development programs.