The Fort Smith Public School district received a $1 million grant from the Gene Haas Foundation for expansion of the computer integrated machine lab at the district’s Peak Innovation Center.
The Gene Haas Foundation, founded in 1999 by Gene Haas, owner of Haas Automation Inc., is a California-based private foundation with a focus on advanced manufacturing education. Haas Automation is a builder of CNC (computer numerical control) machine tools, which Haas started in 1983.
The Foundation’s primary goal is to build skills in the machining industry by providing scholarships for CNC machine technology students and NIMS credentials and gifts nearly $10 million a year to advanced technical education centers.
When the Peak center opens in August 2021, the lab, to be named the Gene Haas Computer Integrated Machining Lab, will be approximately 12,000 square feet, equipped with modern machining equipment and technology, and ready for training of regional students.
“Manufacturing in the United States continues to grow, and it requires individuals who have an ever increasing skill set. When you consider the rich history of manufacturing in this region, this is an incredible opportunity from which to build an even better future. This will be a world class career and technical training facility, which will provide incredible opportunities for students. I’m very appreciative that the Gene Haas Foundation saw this as an opportunity to invest in,” said Michael Garner, president of Phillips Corporation/Haas Factory Outlet, who was one of several present at Thursday’s (June 4) announcement of the grant.
The Peak Innovation Center will be a regional career and technology center with a focus on instructional strategies within the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) disciplines.
Fort Smith voters in May 2018 approved a school millage increase, the first in 31 years, raising the millage rate in Fort Smith from 36.5 mills to 42 mills. The new rate is expected to raise $120.822 million, $35 million of which will go toward district-wide safety improvements. The millage plan also included a new $13.724 million career and technology center, now the Peak Innovation Center, featuring specialized lab spaces and classrooms for courses in healthcare, information technology, and advanced manufacturing.
In February 2019, the estate of William Hutcheson Jr. donated the former Hutcheson shoe manufacturing building to be the Peak site. The 181,710-square-foot building that sits on almost 17 acres at the corner of Zero Street and Painter Lane will save the district at least $3 million that had been budgeted to buy an existing building for the career center.
In January, Gov. Asa Hutchinson pledged $2.1 million in state funding from the Office of Skills Development (OSD) of the Arkansas Department of Commerce to be used for advanced manufacturing equipment for the center. It was announced in September 2019 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 the center.
“We are so grateful to the Gene Haas Foundation for this grant to help expand our Computer Integrated Machining Lab. Receiving the grant reinforces the notion that our region is and will continue to be a leader in advanced manufacturing education. The lab will provide our students the opportunity to train on the newest machining technology while developing skills that easily translate to the workforce. We are also grateful for our community partnership with the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce, UAFS and local business and industry to secure such an impactful investment for the growth of Fort Smith Public Schools and our students,” said FSPS Superintendent Dr. Doug Brubaker.
Garner said that by training students in advanced manufacturing, including computer integrated machining, automation and industrial maintenance will help establish an industrial base in the region, something he said is a national security issue.
“It’s more than about Fort Smith. It’s more than about Arkansas. It’s a national issue. (Arkansas) Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston will now have a competitive advantage when recruiting industry for Arkansas,” Garner said.
Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said through efforts like Peak, Fort Smith is one of the best examples of the private sectors and public education, namely FSPS and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, working together to provide students with skill sets that companies need and want.
“It takes all of us to focus on economic development. In education, one of the things we know is that we have to bring forward a workforce that is ready,” said Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor. “In the program … supported by the Haas Foundation, high school students from across our river valley will be enrolled in curriculum taught by highly credentialed professors from our university … that will provide them analytical, creative and innovative skills that are necessary to take a product idea from a conception, through a design phase and to production.”