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Gazette Staff

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $1 million for a Montana State University-Billings program to train local students and employees in high-tech areas.

The committee action was announced Thursday by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont. The full Senate still has to pass the Veterans Administration/Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill that includes the MSU-Billings money.

If the money is approved, MSU-Billings would set up a center to train local residents in programs such as computer applications and data-base and software management, said Ron Sexton, MSU-B chancellor.

The money would pay for equipment, staff training and the creation of lab space. The program probably would be based primarily at MSU-B’s College of Technology.

The program would help address concerns about having enough skilled employees to attract high-tech businesses to Billings, Sexton said.

“It will contribute immeasurably to the pool of trained people,” he said.

If the bill does pass, programs typically take as long as three years to get up and running.

Montana’s congressional delegation, and particularly Burns, has supported the school’s efforts in getting the money.

“This is a forward-thinking project, which the university believes will contribute directly and substantially to the state’s economy by providing employers and employees with training and skills development,” Sexton said.

The legislation including the money for MSU-Billings contains a total of $19, 850,000 for VA/HUD projects in Montana.

Burns said the bill has language urging the Veterans Administration to continue its efforts to explore new uses for the VA facility in Miles City.

The other projects in Montana that received preliminary approval include:

$3 million for MSU-Bozeman’s Center on Life in Extreme Thermal Environments.

$2 million for advanced opto-electronics research at MSU in Bozeman.

$750,000 to Bozeman’s TechRanch for the development of a technology incubator for the Gallatin Valley and Eastern Montana.

$3.9 million for the Mine Waste Technology Center at the National Environmental Waste Technology, Testing and Evaluation Center in Butte.

$3.5 million for the University of Montana’s International Earth Observing System Natural Resource Training Center.

$2 million for wastewater-treatment improvements in Florence.

$1,500,000 for a wastewater-development project in Lewis and Clark County.

$1 million for enhancement of the Missouri Riverfront Park in Great Falls.

$500,000 for the Montana Drinking Water Assistance program.

$500,000 for a sewer upgrade project at the Galen Campus near Anaconda.

$200,000 for sewer infrastructure in Deer Lodge.

The VA/HUD Appropriations bill is one of 13 annual spending bills, which must be approved by Congress. The legislation must now be approved by the full Senate.