Important Announcement on SkillsUSA’s National Leadership Center from Executive Director Chelle Travis
Dear SkillsUSA Nation,
I’m writing to let you know that SkillsUSA’s board of directors has unanimously approved the acceptance of an offer to purchase our National Leadership Center building and property in Leesburg, Va.
This decision was reached for many reasons, all of which can be summed up by one: This opportunity will strengthen and expand our national life-changing mission. That will happen through the creation of new pathways to better serve our student and teacher members for generations to come, all while providing the organization with an even stronger financial foundation. More information can be found in the FAQ (“Frequently Asked Questions”) below, as well as more details on our decision-making process and SkillsUSA’s next steps.
We’ve already delivered this announcement to our national staff, state directors, national officer team and a select group of stakeholders with strong ties to our organizational legacy. We’ve also conducted virtual meetings with these groups, where we explained the process and reasoning behind the decision in great detail and addressed questions and concerns. More meetings will be held in the coming days. Please feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to learn more.
I recognize the magnitude of this decision for many to whom our NLC remains a beloved source of pride. I count myself among that group. I want to assure you that this decision was made with care, respect, consideration and exhaustive research. Most importantly, it was made with our mission in mind. That mission is our North Star, and it must ultimately guide every decision we make, no matter how challenging they may sometimes be.
It’s also important to note that this decision was made from a position of organizational strength. Consequently, this sale should be viewed as a forward-thinking decision rather than one born out of need. SkillsUSA is strong, and our mission is more valued than ever.
Our theme this year is “SkillsUSA: United as One.” That unity of purpose has fueled our organization’s perpetual growth since 1965, and we’re just getting started. After all, SkillsUSA’s true legacy is ultimately measured in the lives this organization has changed for the better: 14 million so far … and counting.
It is the honor of my life to lead this great organization, and I look forward to seeing many of you in-person in 2022.
SkillsUSA National Leadership Center Sale FAQ
This FAQ (“Frequently Asked Questions”) answers many questions related to the sale of SkillsUSA’s National Leadership Center (NLC). If you have further questions not represented below, please submit them using this online form and we’ll respond with answers as soon as we can.
SkillsUSA’s board and leadership made this decision because they are convinced it is in the best interest of SkillsUSA and the accomplishment of our life-changing mission. The board unanimously approved the sale after months of research (much of which is described below) and careful consideration of all potential options.
More specifically, the board determined that this sale presents SkillsUSA with a variety of new strategic opportunities to:
- Financially elevate and secure our mission-centric work by establishing a first-ever legacy endowment to flex with evolving strategic and programmatic priorities within the organization. This will allow SkillsUSA to avoid financial investments with a limited and diminishing return while providing us with a major increase in consistent ROI (return on investment).
- Significantly strengthen our ability to recruit and retain quality talent in today’s labor market through the location of a national headquarters that is closer to the Washington, D.C., area. This will allow us to attract a more diverse pool of candidates to advance our newly approved DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) objectives.
- Foster stronger relationships with D.C.-based nonprofit, government and industry partners through a national headquarters that is in closer proximity to these locations.
- Modernize our space and location to drive a step-change in student, alumni, educator and industry engagement with our NLC.
- Secure a location that is closer to D.C.-area hotels and other facilities currently used for national conferences and events.
No. This decision was not made from a position of financial need for SkillsUSA. On the contrary, SkillsUSA’s financial position is stronger than it’s been in many years, even stronger than it was before the pandemic.
However, several important economic factors did play a role in this decision as the board looked toward the future, including substantial operational, repair, and mandatory upgrade costs the organization is faced with in the coming years, costs that could run well over a million dollars.
The board’s reluctance to proceed with these investments is not based on a weak financial position. As referenced above, the organization is in excellent financial shape. The reluctance stems, rather, from the fact that so much of our 25,000 sq. ft. building goes unused. The size of our building and property has always exceeded the requirements of our local staff. Although the majority of staff have been working remotely since the pandemic began, the disproportionate size-to-use ratio of the building was an issue even before the pandemic, and it would remain so even if staff returned to a fully in-person working environment. In fact, more than one-third of our national staff work remotely on a permanent basis.
The training sessions and events that have been held at the building over the years — as wonderful as they have been — have also not occurred on a frequent enough basis (or on a large enough scale) to justify maintaining a property as large as our NLC. In fact, the property has never been fully utilized in the way the original vision intended: to create a dormitory-like atmosphere where students could consistently come together for large, multi-day events.
Taking all of these factors into consideration, the board determined that it was difficult to justify the ongoing expenditures of continuing to maintain and upgrade our large campus and headquarters building. Further, the board determined that those costs would — and in fact have — become an obstacle to achieving our organizational goals. This sale will open new paths for accomplishing our mission in powerful, transformative ways while providing the organization with an even stronger financial foundation.
The official sale of the property is anticipated to close in early 2022, but an actual move will not take place until at least late 2022, possibly longer. The purchase agreement grants SkillsUSA up to two full years to remain in the building, during which time no rental fees will be charged and the buyer will assume all costs associated with the building (including the repair and mandatory upgrade costs referenced above). This agreement is renewable annually after the first two years. In fact, the buyer has offered SkillsUSA the option of remaining in the building “for as long as necessary.” This rare stipulation made the offer even more appealing, as it grants us great flexibility in determining our next steps. It also allows us to focus on our in-person national conference in Atlanta this June while supporting our state associations as they return to in-person conferences and events of their own.
As far as a future location for our NLC, that will remain in Northern Virginia. There is no intention whatsoever to move the organization out of state. The goal is to find a location that is closer to the D.C. area, allowing us to better leverage that important region in our mission-centric work. In fact, our research has shown that rental costs closer to the D.C. area are comparable (and less than in many cases) to the current annual operating costs of our building and property, costs which don’t include the ongoing NLC repair and upgrade costs as referenced above.
A special task force representing all key stakeholders will evaluate all options related to the future status of our national headquarters. Again, the favorable nature of the purchase agreement grants SkillsUSA the necessary time we need to explore all potential options and ultimately make the best decision for the organization. More information will be made available over the coming months.
The value of SkillsUSA’s NLC and the evaluation of our capital assets have been topics of strategic discussions with prior board leadership for several years. Far from a sudden reaction to an unexpected offer, this sale is the ultimate result of those informed and focused discussions.
In April of 2021, SkillsUSA’s board directed the organization to engage a realtor to start the market valuation process for the property and assess the property’s selling potential. In July, after the valuation process was complete, SkillsUSA was approached by a local farmer and entrepreneur with an offer to purchase our building and property, and a Capital Assets Exploration task force was convened to consider all aspects of a potential sale. That task force was composed of SkillsUSA state directors, industry and education partners/leaders, and SkillsUSA staff.
The next several months were spent researching all possible options, and the task force met multiple times during that period to review and discuss that research. In early November, the task force decided that the offer should be brought officially to the SkillsUSA Board of Directors for consideration. A special board meeting was held on Nov. 8, and the full board was presented with the findings and recommendations of the task force. A question-and-answer period followed, after which the board voted unanimously to approve the sale, citing their belief that it was in the best interest of the organization and our mission moving forward. Because the fiduciary responsibility of the board includes SkillsUSA’s assets and the location of our headquarters, they were authorized to make this decision on behalf of the organization.
This sale will have a positive effect on SkillsUSA’s ability to accomplish our mission. It will support current members and the future growth of SkillsUSA by providing greater financial security for the organization, growing our current investments, and creating an endowment that will cover a portion of our year-to-year operating costs. This endowment will also help maintain the organization’s financial strength independent of the potential for variable income levels in the years ahead. The result will be our ability to expand programs and services for members, reach new markets and provide more support than ever before to each member we serve.
A very small percentage of our membership (typically less than one percent) visits the NLC during any given year (pre-pandemic). As noted above, nearly one third of our staff now works remotely on a permanent basis, and our local staff has demonstrated how productive it can be in a predominantly teleworking environment over the last two years, something that many companies and organizations across the nation have recently discovered. Even prior to the pandemic, SkillsUSA did not maintain a staff large enough to justify the size of our building from a financial perspective, nor did the training sessions and events that were occasionally held there.
Another important consideration is the NLC’s location, which is inconvenient to airports and hotels and is a time-consuming drive from Washington, D.C., especially during weekdays. The vast majority of events that occur during our Washington Leadership Training Institute (WLTI), for example, take place within D.C., some directly on Capitol Hill, and hotel facilities are located nearly an hour’s drive from our NLC. This sale offers SkillsUSA an opportunity to secure a headquarters in the D.C. area that is more convenient to airports, ride-share/cab service, hotels, meetings and other events. This increased accessibility will allow SkillsUSA to utilize a new space more effectively and more often for our members.
SkillsUSA is in the process of forming a national task force to determine how best to honor and preserve historic artifacts and memorabilia, including the many pavers that adorn our walkway, our Champions Circle amphitheater, trees planted to honor former staff and more. That task force, which is currently being assembled, will feature a variety of voices representing SkillsUSA’s past and present. SkillsUSA is committed to treating these items with the utmost respect and care and, where possible, providing the opportunity for more visibility for these legacy items among our membership.
Choosing to seek out developers interested only in the land would be problematic, because the land rests on a limestone overlay. Local regulations for these overlays drastically limit the number of buildings permitted to be built per acre, which makes the property far less appealing to developers. Keeping the building alone is also not a cost-effective solution for SkillsUSA due to the age of the building and the many upgrades and repairs required as referenced above.
The property is being purchased by a local farmer and entrepreneur who plans to create an event space that will preserve the open land and the current building. The buyer plans to begin renovations on the downstairs portion of the building no earlier than late 2022 but currently has no plans for the office space in the upstairs portion. As noted above, through the favorable nature of the purchase agreement, SkillsUSA can remain in the building for up to two full years (longer if necessary) as we work to determine our next steps in this process.
A task force is currently being assembled with the express purpose of determining how the proceeds from this sale will ultimately be used. Those specific plans will be discussed and decided in the days ahead, as we’re still very early in this process. However, as referenced above, the organization is committed to establishing a legacy endowment with the proceeds (a first for SkillsUSA) that will continue to work for the organization, safeguarding SkillsUSA for years to come while providing new opportunities to expand our mission’s reach and serve our members more effectively. Just as this decision was made with our mission in mind, we are committed to using the proceeds from the sale to strengthen that mission.