Wallace State announces millions in new funding

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Wallace State Photo Credit: Kay Ivey Twitter

Wallace State Community College last week celebrated the grand opening of the $8.8 million Center of Welding Technology and Innovation Center. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics announced new plans for almost $49 million in capital investments to build or renovate three buildings on the Hanceville campus.

“Our theme for today is rightfully entitled Building the Workforce because as one of Alabama’s most ambitious colleges, that is our mission — to build the workforce of the future,” Karolewics said.

“We began incubating entrepreneurs over a decade ago, and we are proud of the hundreds of jobs created by ZeroRPM, Sequence Health, and DB Technologies in this community,” Karolewics continued. “This Innovation Center project is projected to create ninety-eight jobs and $25 million in revenue for our area within the first eight years.”

“It’s an honor to be a part of this history-making day,” said Alabama Governor Kay Ivey. “We are literally standing on ground zero in the campaign to equip new Alabama workers and those who are choosing to reenter the workforce with skills to succeed.”

While the state has record-low unemployment, Gov. Ivey has become increasingly troubled by the state’s ranking nationally as a state with one of the lowest workforce participation rates.

“Providing pathways for them to join the workforce is a major priority,” Ivey said. “Alabama’s 24 community colleges are on the front lines in delivering the training many of these workers need to get to work.”

The 30,000-square-foot Center for Welding Technology and Innovation is the largest training center in the Southeast. The new Welding Technology Center has seven robotic welding stations; nine virtual welding simulators; 81 welding booths; 20 grinding booths; a fabrication area with two welders, a plasma CNC table, and pipe welding equipment; and three state-of-the-art classrooms with built-in cameras, microphones, and speakers to allow hosting online classes. Skilled, certified welders are in high demand by Alabama industry.

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told Alabama Today, “The $48 million capital investment will allow Wallace State Community College to provide multiple trade credentials and certifications for in-demand automotive, electrical, welding, and STEM careers. Whether someone is a traditional postsecondary student or desires a career change later in life, Wallace State Community College offers opportunities to excel.“

Karolewics said that $4.2 million will be used for the expansion and renovation of the Machine Tool Technology building. Wallace State has partnered with HAAS Automation, which has been critical in enabling Wallace State to produce the most advanced machinists in this region.

Another building project is a $9.6 million Facility for Automotive Technology to accommodate the transformation of the automotive industry to electric and autonomous vehicles. Dr. Karolewics said Wallace State has partnered with Mercedes Benz, Nissan North America, Cullman Electric Cooperative, and the Tennessee Valley Authority on this project. Benton Nissan donated a Nissan Leaf to the Advanced Automotive Service Technology program, as Mercedes-Benz has done in the past. This is the college’s first electric vehicle for training. The Cooperative and TVA have committed $44,000 for two electric vehicle chargers, with another planned in the future.

The largest building project is a $35 million STEM Gateway Building, which will house all the college’s first-year students in mathematics, English, humanities, speech, and chemistry, as well as the Culinary Arts program, a digital learning center, and a tutoring center.

Dr. Jones said, “Education and training and stable employment help break the cycle of generational poverty, and when Alabamians are working, we all benefit.”

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