Program to provide certification for region’s workers would be first of its kind in Texas

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

May 22, 2007 - A program bringing area community colleges and manufacturers together to create a stronger labor market could benefit from a grant being applied for by the local economic development corporation.

The Sulphur Springs/Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation board of directors heard a report Monday from the Northeast Texas Workforce Development Board regarding a "manufacturer's summit" with area production companies.

The summit brought out at least one important piece of data about the region's labor force, EDC Director Roger Feagley said.

"Manufacturers were not finding the kinds of skills they needed," Feagley said.

In response, the board and others have worked with three community colleges — Paris Junior College, Texarkana College and Northeast Texas Community College — to find a way to certify workers in a variety of areas.

That training ranges from the most basic job skills — such as teaching why it's important to get to work on time — to welding and learning how to work with Programmable Logic Controllers, the computerized devices manufacturers use to automate production processes.

"The is the first one of these programs in Texas," Feagley said. 

The colleges will work together to provide the training, and each will specialize in one particular area, Feagley said.

Paris Junior College, for example, will take the lead in PLC training. North Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant will focus on welding. Texarkana College's area of expertise is in RFID, or radio frequency identification, the tags and equipment used to speed up and simplify inventory management.

Companies will pay for the training, which could be done in a classroom, over the Internet, at one of the manufacturer's offices or other sites. One advantage of the alliance with the colleges is that tuition costs will be based on the lower "in-district" figures, nomatter which of the schools is used.

For its part, the Sulphur Springs/Hopkins County Economic Development Corporation is applying for a $2.5 million grant from the Skills Development Fund from the governor's office. The money would be used to develop the curriculum and pay other costs associated with the program, which would cover a nine-county area in Northeast Texas.

The EDC board also heard a report from Adams Consulting Engineers in Tyler on a 265-acre site east of Sulphur Springs that the EDC has purchased. The property fronts the north frontage road of Interstate 30, and the Blacklands Railroad line runs through the land.

Engineers presented information on what it would take to provide utilities and build roads and a railroad spur on the property.

Feagley said they hope the land, dubbed by the EDC as the White Oak Business Park, can draw a prospective business to the area.

"We think it may be a good spot for a warehouse," Feagley said.

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