Gov. Asa Hutchinson has pledged $2.1 million in state funding for the new Fort Smith Public Schools career and technology center. Hutchinson said investment in the center is an investment in the entire region as well as the state, noting that students from outside the FSPS district would benefit from the center.
Dr. Doug Brubaker, FSPS superintendent, joined Hutchinson Thursday (Jan. 9) at the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce to announce that $2.1 million dollars from the Office of Skills Development (OSD) of the Arkansas Department of Commerce will be for advanced manufacturing equipment for the center.
It was announced in September that FSPS will receive a $1.4 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help build its career technology center. FSPS earmarked $13.724 million of funds to be raised from the school millage increase Fort Smith voters approved in 2018 for a career and technology center.
Brubaker noted Thursday that Vision 2023, the district’s five-year strategic plan, included career planning as a key area of focus.
“One of the key components in our capital improvement plan adopted to support it was the expansion of efforts throughout our region to prepare students for high-tech careers including a 50,000-square-foot career and technology center with the focus on the fields of advanced manufacturing, information technology and healthcare,” he said.
The facility, which should open in 2021, will feature specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing within the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) disciplines, all housed in the former Hutcheson shoe facility, a 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane in east Fort Smith. The building was donated to FSPS for use as the center in February by the estate of William Hutcheson Jr., saving the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building.
“We are excited about this investment in the future of so many students throughout our region and very grateful to Governor Hutchinson. These resources will be utilized to create a world-class advanced manufacturing program within the new career and technology center. … The advanced manufacturing, health care sciences, and information technology career pathways offered at this facility will equip students with industry-recognized certifications that lead to high-paying jobs immediately after graduation and/or prepare students for higher learning in STEAM-related fields,” Brubaker said.
Brubaker noted the career and technical center will be an expansion site for the Western Arkansas Technical Center at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
Hutchison said centers like the FSPS career and technology center are important to the state because of the role manufacturing plays in the state. He said Arkansas is sixth in the nation in terms of the percentage of the state’s workforce experienced in manufacturing.
“We have a strong workforce that has experience and knowledge in manufacturing, and it is a growth sector for our state,” he said, noting that though manufacturing went down for some time, it is coming back strong.
“And it will continue to be strong because of workforce centers like this one. Fort Smith is leading the way,” Hutchinson said. “We have 530,000 Arkansans or 18 percent of our workforce who need workforce training. We are concentrating on that (workforce training) because that is the key to providing good job opportunities for them but also to be able to recruit industry that is so important in the river valley.”
Once the center opens, manufacturing students will be able to earn technical concurrent credit, industry-recognized certifications, certificates of proficiency, technical certificates and potentially associate degrees in one of three advanced manufacturing pathways including computer-integrated machining, automation/robotics and industrial maintenance, a news release from the school district states. Work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities will be available in partnership with area business and industry partners.
The OSD grant will provide funding for CNC mills and lathes, tooling, and gaging equipment for computer integrated machining; robotic flex trainers and tending robots for automation; PLC trainers, factory simulation systems, motor control system, hydraulic and pneumatic systems, and electrical and mechanical systems for industrial maintenance.
“This is one more piece of a unique, large puzzle that puts Fort Smith in the national spotlight as a business workforce destination where all of the partners in the community are working together toward one unified goal,” said Tim Allen, president and CEO of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.