Construction is set to begin on a $12 million worker education facility on the Arkansas Northeastern College campus. The community college located in Blytheville trains up to 1,500 workers each year, and the new building will used to primarily provide customized training for manufacturing jobs.
“This is such a great idea … it will serve students so much better,” ANC President Dr. James Shemwell told Talk Business & Politics. “It will be geared toward high demand fields where the education phase is two years or less.”
ANC provides degree programs for vocational workers such as welders, electricians, and others. It also provides workforce training for many of the area’s major employers including Big River Steel and Atlas Tubing. Much of this training is done in three separate buildings in Blytheville, according to the school.
These old, retrofitted buildings are subpar and need to be replaced, Shemwell said. The three buildings combined have more than 120,000-square-feet, but it’s much more than is needed, Shemwell said. The new building will be 85,000-square-feet, and the college is expected to save thousands of dollars each year in utility costs, Shemwell said.
The new building will have an electrical lab, hydraulics/pneumatics lab, safety/environmental lab, training rooms, machine and welding fabrication shop, and other training rooms.
ANC has raised $825,000 in private donations, primarily from companies that have their workers trained there, towards the new building. BRS and Zekelman Industries, the parent company for Atlas Tubing, announced Wednesday the two companies would donate $50,000 towards the new building.
About $4 million of the costs will be paid through a bond initiative, and the college will pay about $5 million out of its own coffers. The ANC Foundation, a private entity, will borrow $1 million towards the project and it has already dedicated $375,000, according to ANC. The exact costs are only estimates at this point, Shemwell said. Bids on the project will be taken in the coming weeks. Business growth, especially in the manufacturing sector, has pushed the college to provide workforce training, Shemwell said. BRS will begin full-time production in Q1 in 2017. The influx of jobs is needed in the local communities.
Mississippi County has the third highest unemployment rate among all Arkansas counties at 5.5%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The county started the year at 7.6%. The civilian labor force increased by more than 300 workers from January to October to 18,114. The number of unemployed workers fell by almost 25% to 992 during that same time.
The county is dominated by two towns, Blytheville and Osceola. The two are co-county seats. Blytheville, the largest city in the county, has 14,694 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The median income in the city is $32,958 in 2015. Osceola has 7,233 residents and had a median income of $28,495.
ANC formed The Solutions Group, in 1996 to cater to companies in the region that needed to train their workers. Many manufacturing companies have to send their workers to far-off locations to receive training is areas such as safety/environmental or others, Shemwell said. ANC provides these services close to home, saving those companies’ money and time, he said. The college works closely with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and the Great River Economic Development Foundation to provide pre-employment and new hire training for new and expanded companies.
BRS has spent about $1 million for pre-employment services that included vetting potential employees at its new steel plant in Osceola. The company will have more than 500 full-time workers once it begins operations.
Other training areas include electrical certifications, manufacturing/mechanical systems, welding operations, lean manufacturing, soft skills, computer skills and applications, and others.
This year the college has trained at least 2,000 workers, according to estimates. The increase is due to BRS, Shemwell said. The ANC president said school officials are hopeful the new facility will be finished sometime in the summer 2018.
“It’s really going to be a step into the future for us and the companies we work with,” he said.