County enters negotiations with Lobaki for virtual reality lab in Workforce Development complex

Representatives from Elizabethton City Schools and the Lobaki Company from Mississippi came to the Buildings and Grounds Committee with a request. Lobaki said they want to move part of their Virtual Reality company into the Workforce Development building in Carter County, creating a VR lab for the community to utilize.

The company recently began a partnership with Elizabethton High School to offer VR courses for the students, and now they want to continue their efforts in the county.

Superintendent of City Schools Corey Gardenhour said the opportunity is huge.

“[Gaming] is one very small part of VR,” Gardenhour said.

He said jobs relating to VR are rapidly expanding, and companies such as Facebook and Google are investing millions of dollars into VR research and development. By offering jobs relating to this expanding field, he said they can work to keep these graduates working in Carter County.

One student came to the meeting to talk about his excitement about the program, having switched his career goal from pharmacy after only a single semester with the technology.

“I am not the only one like me,” Levi Shingleton said.

He described the project he found a passion for: a virtual bee-keeping nest, where users can learn about bees and how their hives work.

“If I cannot do it here, I am going to San Francisco to do it,” he said.

The committee also discussed that if they do not take this chance, places like Bristol may take them instead.

The committee voted unanimously to begin negotiations with Lobaki for a potential lease. Current estimates for the section of property sit at roughly 4,600 square feet.

“We do not want to lose them,” Ginger Holdren said. “I believe this is a win for the whole county.”

Speaking of Workforce Development, now that the county owns the lease to the building thanks to Carter County Tomorrow’s dissolution, the committee went to work with the first of several improvements on their list: the parking lots, particularly the lot beside the BP gas station.

“You cannot park your car in some of them,” Austin Jaynes said of some of the potholes in the lot.

Bids from the RFP came back with a few options, though the committee ultimately voted in favor of taking their own Highway Department’s bid of $106,060 and sending that to the Budget Committee, which meets Monday, Dec. 9.

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