Goshen News, Goshen, IN

May 1, 2013

New Ivy Tech center would come with a $14M price tag


— GOSHEN — A new, $14 million advanced manufacturing training center could be on its way to Elkhart County.

But like anything with a hefty price tag, it all comes down to funding.

At any given time in Elkhart County there are approximately 2,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs.

It’s 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 at around 9 percent and the statistic becomes even more significant.

In an effort to remedy this situation, Ivy Tech Community College is proposing the construction of a $14 million manufacturing training center located directly behind the current Ivy Tech Elkhart County campus on C.R. 18.

Thomas Coley, chancellor of the Ivy Tech Community College North-Central Region, was the featured speaker during Tuesday’s County-Cities Forum in downtown Goshen. During his talk, Coley 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, economic development depends on a quality work force which helps manufacturers throughout the region grow and expand. However, Coley noted that manufacturing companies throughout Elkhart County have indicated that there is a significant skills gap when it comes to finding employees with the necessary soft skill competencies and technical training needed to fill these manufacturing positions.

“As some of you may know, I’ve recently been appointed to take over the North-Central region for Ivy Tech, and what is consistent throughout, from east Chicago to Kosciusko County, is the skills gap that we must address,” Coley said. “It’s regional, it’s national, and it’s something that we have to work together on.”

With manufacturing accounting for 36.3 percent of the employment and 45.3 percent of the 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. What’s more, Coley noted that high school students interested in trades like welding, manufacturing and electronics are increasingly unable to explore such careers in Elkhart County due to the lack of physical space.

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, Coley said Ivy Tech is looking at providing a stackable educational model with exit points at eight, 16, 24, 32 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, Coley 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 still in the very preliminary stages, Coley 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, Coley said there is still plenty of funding that needs to be secured before the idea of the new training center can become a reality.

“For some this may seem like a sticker shock,” Coley said of the facility price tag. “But in my visits to various colleges throughout the country... this is really a modest price tag for the kind of center that we’re talking about, that will do the things that you’d expect from a training center of this caliber.”

In discussing future fundraising efforts for the new center, Thomas Killian Jr., executive director of resource development for the Ivy Tech North-Central Region, said he is already seeing significant interest coming from the community.

“We’ve been making some very good movement early on,” Killian said. “We’re already looking at a short term projected pipeline of close to $5 million, and that’s just in talking to a few folks here, a few leadership gifts in the beginning of this campaign. $14 million is a big goal. We are confident though that given the need of this manufacturing center that we’re going to be able to find those dollars.”

John Letherman, president of the Elkhart County Council, seemed equally optimistic about the facility’s prospects.

“The Ivy Tech we have now we got because (Elkhart) Mayor (Dick) Moore helped with utilities, the county helped with infrastructure, Mayor (Allan) Kauffman helped, the EDC helped... all kinds of folks got together to make that happen,” Letherman said. “What we’re hoping happens here is that same kind of an alliance. The alternative is to do nothing, and that’s just a continuous slow spiral toward oblivion as far as I’m concerned. I think we need to turn this thing around.”