KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — Cabarrus County residents approved the 2014 Rowan-Cabarrus bond referendum for an Advanced Technology Center with over 64 percent of the vote. Rowan-Cabarrus Community College is continuing the effort to build the facility and educational programming that would make this a reality.
“We believe that this is the next step forward for our region – advanced technology and advanced manufacturing. An Advanced Technology Center will be a flagship to help attract employers to the region,” said Dr. Carol. S. Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus. “This will help us bring a higher level of training and meet the needs of the community, which are a big part of economic development.
The College recently brought national consultants from the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC) to assist in the planning efforts.
“Our goal is to think outside the box and provide a facility that will enable the College to offer the most advantageous training possible. The facility and program offerings will bring great benefit to the College and to our service region,” said Spalding. “We want to create a place and programing that will support the businesses we do have and bring new ones to the area.”
The National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers is a network of higher education resources that advocates and promotes the use of technology applications that enhance economic and workforce development programs and services. NCATC is affiliated with the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the national organization for all 1,167 public and independent community colleges across the United States.
“Industry input all along the way is emphatically important. During our interviews we spent a lot of time with representatives from the information technology, energy, manufacturing, construction and healthcare fields,” said J. Craig McAtee, executive director of the National Coalition of Advanced Technology Centers (NCATC). “Additionally, our process included conversations with other local colleges and economic development leaders. We want you to have the best Advanced Technology Center in the country! We will ultimately provide you with a detailed report that will hopefully be a blueprint you can use to spring forward the development of your new Advanced Technology Center.”
The interviews with industry leaders proved to be very enlightening, providing important guidance for both the present and the future. For instance, one of the initial takeaways from the consultants was the potential to start offering training that would support a multi-skilled industrial maintenance technician.
Currently, the College already teaches many of the components, including electrical, electronics, hydraulics, pneumatics, and Programmable Logic Controls (PLCs). What’s different, however, would be cross-training across all of these platforms. Nationally, this training is known as mechatronics. Mechatronics is a combination of a number of skills allowing employers to have access to employees who can troubleshoot multiple kinds of facility and equipment problems throughout a factory or business. The current training for such positions can be difficult because the equipment necessary for the training is sometimes spread across different locations.
“One of the goals of our interviews was to identify new and upcoming initiatives for the region. Industry leaders made recommendations about programs and training that they are unable to find elsewhere, which will enable the College to build an Advanced Technology Center for the community that will attract business from around the globe,” said Jack Roach, director of special projects at Florence-Darlington Technical College.
Some emerging opportunities noted by the consultants in their initial report include a fabrication lab, 3D Digital Design and additive manufacturing, diesel maintenance technicians, SmartGrid technicians, and alternative energy technicians.
In addition, the College invited a group of futurists from the local service region to participate in the conversations to capture new developments and improvements that could be incorporated in the new programming for an advanced technology and manufacturing facility. McAtee stated that this was the first time local futurists had been included to contribute to the conversation.
“This certainly brought added value to our experience. It takes true courage to build something based upon emerging trends. Rowan-Cabarrus is fortunate to have a leader like Dr. Spalding who is willing to be strategic and say ‘I don’t see it happening right now, but I believe it will be true in the near future,’” said McAtee. “This will set this region’s Advanced Technology Center apart.”
A site for the new Advanced Technology Center has yet to be determined, but was a key part of the discussions. In the next few weeks, the College will receive a draft report of the findings and recommendations from the consultants.
A key aspect of a smart, well-planned Advanced Technology Center is the ability to adapt the space to suit industry’s needs.
“As we built our Advanced Technology Center at Florence-Darlington Technical College, it was clear that we needed flexible space with movable walls and enough HVAC load and ventilation to accommodate the variety of equipment,” said Roach.
In addition to the funding from Cabarrus County, the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Foundation is supporting this effort and the College is exploring grants and donations to support the equipment for the training. The College will also consider partnerships with local and national suppliers for laboratories and programs.
“In North Carolina, it’s the responsibility of the local county commission to fund the construction and maintenance of community college facilities,” said Carl M. Short, chair of the College’s Board of Trustees. “The Rowan-Cabarrus Board of Trustees is grateful to the citizens and to the Commission of Cabarrus County for affirming the need for a first rate community college.”
For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, please visit www.rccc.edu or call 704-216-RCCC (7222). The College is currently accepting applications for classes beginning in October and January.
Paula Dibley, 704-903-2738