Training center expansion announced

Training center expansion announced

Posted: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 9:12 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter Local economic development gets a boost and an innovative training center located in downtown Union City gets a $250,000 facelift. That’s the message heralded Tuesday afternoon by four local officials who promote economic development and jobs in Obion County. Dan Weber, Jimmy White, Jim Rippy and Jim Cooper had some breaking news about the Obion County Industrial Training & Education Center located at 204 South Second St. in Union City. “There’s been some rumors going around. We want to give you the facts,” said White, vice president of the Obion County Industrial Development Corp. With him to make the announcement were Dan Weber, president, Obion County Industrial Development Corp.; Jim Rippy, chairman, Joint Economic Development Committee; and Jim Cooper, executive director of Obion County Chamber of Commerce and the Obion County Economic Development Corp. “The training center is not going to close. In fact, it is going to expand,” White said. Public invitations for bids for construction of a 4,000-square-foot expansion will go out next week, according to Cooper. “We have a state grant to (fund) the construction,” he said. Construction could get under way in five weeks. The expansion augments the existing floor space of 20,000 square feet. What will the new floor space be used for? The officials direct your attention to Greenfield Products Inc., which manufactures lift equipment that has the brand name “Mi-Jack.” Not so very long ago, the company was based in Dresden. Its officials visited Union City and toured the training center and a new spec building located in the industrial park. Impressed by what they saw, they bought the spec building and huddled with local economic development leaders about initiating a training program written by them and tailored to fit their industrial needs. The move meant a local gain of 80 jobs. And that’s where Part 2 of the breaking news comes in. “We’re buying all new welding equipment to meet their specifications so we can train the welders,” Cooper said. “We’re putting in a robotic welder and six specialized welders, industry standard. You can train probably three people at a time on each of them. “We’ll determine how many hours of training are required. They (the company) set up a proficiency level they want and give us the curriculum. Students will work at Greenfield Products while they go to school. They’ll go to the training center and take two or three hours of class a day. Some will go to evening classes. “As soon as they (complete) the welding school, they have a (permanent) job at Greenfield Products. Job skills make a difference. They may go to work at $10 an hour. Once they reach the level of proficiency, they’ll start at $15 or $17 an hour. (The company) decides the level of proficiency and how long it takes to get there. It may take 30 man hours, it may take 60 or 80.” Cooper said it’ll take about five weeks for the new equipment to rrive, which is about the same length of time to complete the bid process. It is anticipated that expansion will be complete, equipment will be in place, and the new training program under way in November or December. The DSCC connection The training center, established in 2002, has had a professional relationship with Dyersburg State Community College. Through the center, DSCC offered a continuing education program and a course of instruction leading to an Associates of Applied Science degree in Manufacturing Systems Technology. But because of budgetary constraints, the degree program will no longer be offered. White said that’s where the rumors started. “We have had a contract with them year by year. It was a source of money for us and a source of education for our citizens. Now they are no longer able to do it,” he said. “They will continue to offer the continuing education program. It will be taught at night. The next class will start Aug. 4.” Locally owned Rippy said it’s important for the public to know that the training center is owned by the people of Obion County and Union City. It is not a state or federal venture. It is owned and managed by local government. Management and operation are the purview of the Joint Economic Development Council. The fact that no state or federal funds support the center means it is not subject to outside mandates. After all, to accept state or federal funds means accepting state or federal guidelines. In this unique set-up, it’s all private industry, and that’s a huge asset. “It’s very unique,” Rippy said. “I don’t know of any other place in the state where the local community has its own training center. The funds for it come from the Chamber of Commerce. And when Goodyear wants us to train their people, they pay us. The DSCC part has been a small part. “I think we’ve been very successful. Any time we recruit industry or any kind of jobs where training is needed, those folks really like it, because they can write their own program. They know what their needs are. Right now, Greenfield Products wants 40 welders. So we’re going to put in a welding school and train welders for them.” Others, too White said training activities at the center run the gamut of leadership training classes to computers to hydraulics to fluid mechanics, “whatever is needed.” “The training center is there to serve existing industry and business of Obion County and the surrounding communities to help address training issues they have for their ongoing businesses,” he said. “It also helps educate folks in skills they need in order to prepare them for jobs that may be available. It’s also a recruitment tool for industry coming into this area. It was vital in getting Greenfield Products here. It will continue to be vital. “And it’s not just for Greenfield Products. There’s a need for welders in the entire surrounding area. We look for this to help not only Obion County and Union City, but also surrounding counties. If they prosper, so will we.” Rippy said the training center has several functions, and its main one is help companies become more efficient and more profitable and to be able to expand. “That’s the major purpose of it, to attract new industry here,” he said. “But there are other training needs. We’d like to pull some people in off the street and add skills to them, even though there may not be a job immediately available for them.” Light years ahead Weber said that when the training center was initially announced several years ago, “we blew the socks off the rest of West Tennessee.” “I’m very excited about the training center and this new direction. We are the envy of every county in West Tennessee by having this training center,” he said. “They look at it say, ‘How did you get it done?’ As Jim says, we did it locally. Industry got together, got some help, without asking the state to come in.” “Local banks, all of them, loaned us the money. They bonded together and made one note. We’ve paid most of it back,” White said. Cooper characterizes it all as “a situation that is very unique.” “The community is to be commended,” he said. “I can’t think of another such center in the state. There’s one in Marion, Ill., and the state’s trying to do one at New Johnsonville. But when you do it with state or federal money, you follow their dictates and their curriculum, and in a lot of cases the curriculum doesn’t fit what industry needs. “Well, this one, we own it, we can do the curricula we want. That’s the uniqueness of it.” More to come According to Rippy, the training center, since it opened, has provided training for 314 area industrial and maintenance personnel and computer training for 181 individuals representing 17 companies. White said the welding school is the latest expansion of the center, “but it certainly won’t be our last.” “Industry may have additional needs that we don’t know about today,” he said. “It’s our plan to continue to respond to those needs and develop programs they need in order to continue to provide a trained work force.” Published in The Messenger 7.16.08

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