We commend Yavapai College for listening to the needs of Sedona and Verde Valley students and opening a culinary program at the Sedona Center in West Sedona.

As we report in Zachary Jernigan’s story in the Friday, Sept. 1, newspaper, the Yavapai College’s culinary classes at the Sedona Center are full. Sedona and Verde Valley students can attend community college classes locally to improve their job skills and prospects, which will benefit our local economies in the years to come.

The facility at the edge of town was once home to the popular and productive Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking, but years of cuts to its advertising reduced enrollment to the point that the school was unsustainable.

The school picked up and moved to greener pastures and is now the Zaki Gordon Cinematic Arts Center at Liberty University in Virginia. After ZGI’s departure, the Sedona Center facility was reduced to a shell, only hosting Osher Lifelong Learning Institute classes, which, while popular, are stand-alone seminars and classes not connected to a degree program.

When the Yavapai College Governing Board released its 10-year plan in early 2014, the $103 million capital project budget only allocated a little more than $2 million for the Verde Valley with the rest earmarked for campuses in Prescott and an unbuilt campus in Prescott Valley.

The Sedona Center was on the chopping block and potentially could have been sold off. Local outrage spiked as the Verde Valley provides the college with at least one-third of its operating budget yet only received a mere pittance in programming — indicative of a perennial and systemic problem of the Prescott-headquartered Governing Board shortchanging the Verde Valley that dates back decades.

Verde Valley taxpayers can thank Ruth Wicks, Bob Oliphant, Paul Chevalier and the members of the shuttered Verde Valley Board Advisory Committee for tirelessly fighting to bring more programs to the Verde Valley and balance out our tax generation with programs our residents need.

The new culinary program is the first success in what will likely be a long process to make the Yavapai College Governing Board treat communities on both sides of Mingus Mountain equitably, providing classes and programs based on the proportionality of their tax revenue generation. Unlike the culinary program, the college’s hospitality program unfortunately had low enrollment, leading to the cancellation of the classes this semester.

We sincerely hope Yavapai College revamps the program to make classes shorter, or spaces out what times or days of the week classes are offered so that current and potential hospitality industry employees will be more able to attend them on their days off or, with the blessing of or the tuition reimbursement from their employers, during work hours.

Investing in the specialized education of staff not only benefits local resorts and hotels in the end, it also creates an sincere sense of company loyalty, reducing employee turnover. We sincerely applaud Yavapai College for seeing the needs of our residents and crafting specialized programs. Potential students are here, but they need programs localized to our community.

We hope the college continues its forward progress and turns the Sedona Center into the educational hub it was built to be.