School officials say a new $3.5 million automotive center will be located at the East Broad campus of Gadsden State Community College.
GSCC recently applied for a grant from $55 million in funds earmarked for special projects in the state’s $1 billion construction bond issue.
During an interview, Tim Green, GSCC dean of technical programs, said he expects the grant application to be reviewed this month and an award date to be set shortly thereafter.
“I would assume after the award date it would be at least 12 months before we could get the architectural and engineering services for actual construction,” Green said. The new automotive center is part of the Gadsden Workforce Development Partnership and will serve about 350 high school and college students.
The Gadsden Workforce Development Partnership, which was announced in May, is a multi-agency partnership among schools, businesses and city and state government officials to address the local need for skilled labor. Green said there were 150 high schoolers taking classes on campus last semester.
He said the 24,000-square-foot, two-story building will feature state-of-the-art equipment, labs and technology.
Green said among the new equipment will be robots with optic sensors that could distinguish between blue and green blocks. He said students will be taught using the team concept during course work that will simulate the work in companies.
Automotive manufacturing and industrial automation are some of the programs that will be expanded because of the new building, he said.
“It will basically be like a real plant,” Green said. “(The center) works in concert with our new automotive manufacturing degree program. … We’re actually entering our second year. We need a facility that we can put all the high-tech equipment we’ve got now.
“We already have robots, robotic welders and such as that. We want to centralize that in one location and also give that opportunity to the high school students.”
Green said the partnership is unique because of the number of organizations and individuals involved. “I think it’s one of a kind,” Green said. “You have the mayor, city council, chamber of commerce, industrial development authority, city school system and our legislative delegation all on board.
“That in itself is pretty exciting. Talking with my colleagues around the state, they think it’s amazing.”
Another element of the partnership is GSCC’s Career Transitions program, a career goal-oriented program, now used in the Etowah County and Gadsden school systems. For the first time this year, the Gadsden system has three career transition specialists who have been assisting students at the middle and high school levels.
“Essentially what we’re looking for is a way to help the young people in our community to help prepare themselves for rewarding careers,” Green said. “Not jobs, but rewarding careers.”
Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Bob Russell said a new automotive center is “definitely a good thing.” He said it will enhance the existing automotive program and provide more opportunities for students. “We have some students falling in the cracks,” Russell said. “This will help them.
“With the programs they have, a lot of them will be able to get good-paying jobs right out of school.”
Green said not only is there a demand for workers from major companies such as Mercedes, Hyundai and Honda, but there are more than 400 suppliers that have come to the state with equal if not more of a demand for a skilled workforce.
“We’ve gone from textile and sock mills to automobiles,” Green said. “… It’s critical to the economic development and growth in this area and in this entire state for us to have skilled individuals.
“The type of individual that industries want is not the same as it was in the past. (Companies) require a different skill level than they did five years ago or 10 years ago. They are looking for multi-skilled individuals.
“We’ve gone from the low-wage, low-skilled worker to the high-skill, high-demand, high-wage technician. And that’s where we fit in. As a college, we feel like it’s our responsibility to offer these educational and training experiences, obviously to the public, but also to expose those high school students to an opportunity that they don’t even know is there.”
By Mo Jackson
Times Staff Writer