GOSHEN — The vision of a new, $14 million advanced manufacturing training center for Elkhart County came a step closer to reality Thursday afternoon following a meeting of the Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission.
During Thursday’s meeting, commission members voted in favor of providing $500,000 toward infrastructure improvements for the proposed center, which Ivy Tech Community College is proposing to construct directly behind the current Ivy Tech Elkhart County campus on C.R. 18.
The vote followed a presentation and funding request by Thomas Coley, chancellor of the Ivy Tech Community College North Central and Northwest regions, and Thomas Killian Jr., executive director of resource development for the Ivy Tech North Central Region, who together outlined Ivy Tech’s plans for the new advanced manufacturing center while also explaining why the organization feels such a facility is necessary for the continued advancement of Elkhart County and the region as a whole.
According to Coley, Elkhart County at any given time these days has approximately 2,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs, a statistic tied directly to the fact that the county has a significant shortfall in workers with the necessary skills and technical training to fill those positions. Couple that with an unemployment rate hovering between 7 and 9 percent in recent months, and that statistic becomes even more significant.
With manufacturing accounting for a significant percentage of both employment and earnings in Elkhart County, Coley said it is vital that the county increase its number of graduates with manufacturing-related degrees and certificates, though there is currently no stand-alone facility dedicated to advancing the manufacturing profession in North Central Indiana.
“You need to have a trained workforce to not only keep, but to attract jobs in the area,” Coley said. “We need to provide the kind of skill sets that make them employable not only for a particular industry, but skill sets that could be applicable across any industry.”
That, he said, is where the new training center comes in.
Described as a world-class lean advanced manufacturing training center, the proposed 55,000 square foot facility has been designed to facilitate hands-on training on the most up-to-date equipment available. Specific elements proposed for the new facility include:
• A lean principles-based 10,000 square foot flex lab utilizing cellular configurations;
• A 15,000 square foot state-of-the-art automotive and recreational vehicle center;
• Welding labs;
• HVAC training labs;
• Classrooms designed to facilitate collaborative learning;
• A digital library/resource room;
• Computer simulation labs; and
• Corporate college skill assessment and training rooms.
As for the type of instruction that will be available through the new facility, Killian said that Ivy Tech is looking at providing a stackable educational model with exit points at eight weeks, 16 weeks, 24 weeks, 32 weeks and 40 weeks depending on the extent of mastery a student wishes to achieve in the field of manufacturing. However, even after just eight weeks, Killian said the new facility will be able to produce a work-ready employee able to demonstrate the minimum soft and technical skills required for most entry-level manufacturing jobs.
While admittedly still in the very preliminary stages, Killian noted that Ivy Tech has already made a $1 million investment in the project through the purchase of 43 acres of land directly behind the current Ivy Tech Elkhart County campus where it hopes to construct the new training center.
However, with an overall projected cost of $14 million, Killian said there is still plenty of funding that needs to be secured before the idea of the new training center can become a reality — thus the reason behind the group’s visit to the RDC Thursday.
In discussing future fundraising efforts for the new center, Killian said he is already seeing significant interest coming from the community, and is confident that Ivy Tech will be able to find the necessary dollars to make the center a reality.
“Right now we’re in the door close to about $2 million,” Killian said of the funding already secured for the project. “We’re pipelined at about a little over $5 million, and when I say pipeline those are conversations that we’ve had with folks who have interest, and we’ve talked about numbers, but who we don’t necessarily have commitments from yet.”
The commission agreed, and a motion was passed unanimously to approve the $500,000 investment subject to a definitive interlocal agreement to be drawn up by county planning and legal staff which will then be brought back to the commission for final approval at an upcoming meeting.
Follow government reporter John Kline @jkline_TGN