(TNS) -- Traditional economic development projects often focus on things like building residential districts, retail centers and industrial parks.
A partnership of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Workforce Investment Board of Southwest Missouri and Crowder College is narrowing that focus to a common denominator of economic activity: the worker.
Renovations are underway at the former Franklin Technology Center, 420 S. Grand Ave., to create the Advanced Training and Technology Center, where Crowder instructors will offer adult education programs focused on training in five skilled labor fields: advanced welding, computer network systems, advanced manufacturing technology, computer-aided drafting and community health.
The chamber foundation purchased the building with federal grant funds and is leasing the space to Crowder. The school’s rent will be staggered in a manner that grows relative to the center’s enrollment and therefore its revenue.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be here and work with students,” said Glenn Coltharp, Crowder vice president. “And work with the community. So this gets us closer to the industry needs, and we also feel like we’re being a partner with the industries more being here. It helps the city with economic growth and development. With a new industry coming to town, one of the things they always look for is whether training is available for employees."
In addition to relationships with industries that hire workers in the field, a 100 percent job placement rate among Crowder’s advanced manufacturing technology department graduates indicated to administrators that there was high demand for workers.
Andy Wilson, an AMT instructor at Crowder, said a large percentage of jobs outsourced to foreign countries in his field are not sent away because the labor can be obtained cheaper elsewhere but because of a shortage of employees in the U.S.
“I recall one company in Phoenix who had outsourced a project to Europe,” he said. “And they had had openings for 60 technical positions for three years and were unable to fill those jobs. The company stated they did it with white knuckles; they didn’t want to turn it loose, but they had to. And almost across the board, industries are saying the same thing; it’s a lack of technical trained workers.”
Carla Hess, a Joplin branch manager for Adecco Staffing, an employment agency, said finding applicants with adequate experience can be challenging for companies looking to hire welders, forklift operators and machinists in particular.
“I think that would be great for our community,” she said of the center. “We always have applicants that could use the training.”
Renovations to the building began in May and are scheduled to be completed later this year, meaning the center could begin taking students for the spring semester of 2017.
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The Workforce Investment Board will be moving a portion of its office operations to the site this fall, creating a “one-stop shop” where students can get training from instructors and the help the WIB offers.
“They’re the perfect fit for us,” Coltharp said. “People might be out of a job. They want to get them trained, get them back out there. So they’re coming in, getting that counseling, getting that advisement and, hopefully, going into the programs.”
The building will be outfitted with 36 booths for welding instruction, where students will be broken up into two groups of 18, one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
The advanced manufacturing technology instruction area will feature 12 stations, but Wilson said 40 students could receive instruction at one time in that department.
Kathy Collier, Crowder grants director, said the school’s “conservative” estimate is that 750 students could have gone through the different programs after five years.
Rob O'Brian, Joplin chamber president, said technological advancements have made industries such as welding and manufacturing more efficient, but they also now require employees with more specific training to operate the technology. He cited in particular two new Joplin manufacturing plants — Owens Corning west of town and Heartland Pet Foods in the Crossroads Center Business and Distribution Park, both of which will employ more than 100 people.
“The thing is, it’s so automated,” he said. “You think, that 20 years ago would’ve been a 400-500 person operation. Now it’s 100 people or 150 people. But it’s a huge amount of capital investment, which is good in the community.”
“When you have a good workforce, as companies you tend to stay and expand,” O’Brian said. “Which creates more jobs, which creates more opportunities for the people that are here. That’s good economic development. This was an opportunity, I think, to really, really step that game up.”
©2016 The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.