Gadsden State proposes new Advanced Manufacturing Center

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By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

An exciting new possibility is generating the potential for professional opportunities at Gadsden State Community College.

GSCC Dean of Workforce Development Alan Smith discussed the college’s efforts to develop an Advanced Manufacturing Center for students, with the hopes of establishing and maintaining a sustainable and responsive workforce throughout the community.

Smith presented the college’s proposal for the center and detailed its purpose to Etowah County commissioners in early March, which coincides with Gadsden State’s grant application to the Alabama Community College System. If approved, the grant would fund the $8 to $10 million Advanced Manufacturing Center – a new, 42,000 square foot facility that would serve as a hub of workforce training and future career opportunities for students.

Located on the East Broad campus, the facility would specialize in programs that offer pathways to careers in advanced manufacturing. Through innovative and comprehensive educational avenues, students will develop proficient skillsets in areas such as injection molding, precision machining, additive manufacturing, mechatronics, industrial automation, robotics and welding.

Students would complete training in a modern environment that showcases their efforts. Modelled after facilities like the center for integrated manufacturing at Southern Union State Community College in Opelika, Gadsden State’s center would allow advanced manufacturing programs to operate in an easily-accessible area behind glass, welcoming visitors to tour the center and witness the students’ accomplishments.

“Traditional manufacturing basically had a model where for every three semi-skilled workers you had in a plant, you need one trained worker,” said Smith. “That trained worker could come through on-the-job training, apprenticeship or community college credentials. Advanced manufacturing goes the other way and says for every one semi-skilled worker, you need four skilled workers.

“Imagine a plant with 500 people. Now, you have 100 people with a high school education and on-the-job training specific to the industry, but you need 400 people in that plant that have some type of post-secondary credential. The advanced manufacturing building we are proposing is something that I think, if we can imagine our county in the year 2030 (as to where we are in 2021), we can all see a great need.”

The year 2030 coincides with the system-wide ASPIRE 2030 initiative, which aligns directly with GSCC’s proposed center. Last May, Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker announced ASPIRE 2030 initiative, designed to inspire community-focused strategic planning for the next decade.

ASPIRE stands for “Achieving System-wide Potential through Increased Resources and Engagement” and grew as the result of the Alabama Legislature’s authorization of $1.25 billion bond issue designated to educational development statewide, funding facility upgrades and new construction.

Of that, all 25 Alabama community colleges were allocated $120 million and tasked with developing a plan and writing a proposal that represented ASPIRE’s mission. Baker encouraged the colleges to dream big, recognizing their community’s needs and imagining how their college could strive to address and fulfill those needs over the course of 10 years.

After meeting with industry and community partners, Gadsden State’s vision for the Advanced Manufacturing Center emerged as a direct result of the college’s research and reflection on the students it serves.

“In the time that I’ve been here, in the past several months, we’ve lost 2,400 to 2,500 jobs in the five-county area Gadsden State serves,” said Smith. “There’s been a lot of adjustment and a lot of realignment in our workforce development. We have something that some colleges writing this grant don’t have. We’ve got a problem.”

Smith hopes that the Advanced Manufacturing Center could prove a major step in the right direction towards solving that problem. In addition to gaining beneficial skills, the center would potentially increase dual enrollment for technical students. If high school students were interested in taking courses at the center and maintained a 2.0 GPA, they would be eligible to attend these classes for free through technical dual enrollment scholarships. Smith attested to the college’s forming partnerships with Etowah County, Gadsden City and Attalla City schools, all of which understand the importance of strengthening career technical education.

While the college’s economic development, workforce development and adult education committees collaborated to submit a 150-page plan in September, the college will submit the application for the ASPIRE grant in April. Smith expressed a sense of optimism regarding the Phase I and II proposals the college previously submitted, noting that the ACCS appears appreciative of the work Gadsden State has done. During his discussion with the commission, Smith requested a letter of support to accompany the application.

All commissioners expressed their unified support regarding the project. While the possibility of the center remains a proposal, not a guarantee, the diligent efforts of GSCC’s caring leaders continues to explore the college’s potential, striving towards positive growth for its students and community.

“I appreciate the support and hard work [of everyone involved],” said Smith. “I am very appreciative of the workforce and economic development committee members that contributed to this. I am very appreciative of all stakeholders and any support towards achieving this.”

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