Innovation Center impresses N.C. secretary of commerce
North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Allred Decker said she liked what she saw during a recent tour of the Lee County Innovation Center.
The center houses Central Carolina Community College’s Industry Training Center, which provides manufacturing workforce training for industries in the college’s service area of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties and beyond.
Decker toured the facility Thursday to see and hear about that training and to meet local government and business leaders.
“I’m impressed,” Decker said following the tour. “Manufacturing is so important to North Carolina’s recovery from the recession. It’s encouraging to me to see what this college and Lee County are doing.”
The Department of Commerce is the state’s lead agency for economic, community and workforce development. Its mission is to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for all North Carolinians by promoting the state’s advantages for high-value, technologically competitive industries and companies.
The Innovation Center grew out of the decision by Lee County in 2010 to buy a closed manufacturing facility in the Industrial Park. The goal was to transform it into the heart of industry workforce training in the area.
Central Carolina Community College’s Industry Services Center utilizes almost all of the Innovation Center for its industry training programs. In the past fiscal year, more than 600 workers in industries in the college’s service area of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties, as well as other counties, have been trained or retrained in the latest manufacturing skills. Much of the training is done at no cost to industry within the service area. Companies outside of the service area pay for the training.
The Innovation Center includes an eight-bay welding lab, virtual welder and portable robotic welding education center. An Industry Skills Lab provides training on pumps, hydraulics, pneumatics, process controls, mechanical, industrial control panel and related manufacturing skills. The ITC also houses a simulated work environment and a large area for other training. Much of the training equipment has been donated by industry or purchased with grants.
“The Innovation Center is unique among training centers in North Carolina,” said Dr. Bud Marchant, CCCC president. “It is designed for rapid response to the needs of industry. Our regular classes are limited by their semester structure. The Innovation Center offers training in the flexible format industries need.”
Decker also spoke with some of the high school students participating in the Caterpillar Apprenticeship in Welding program. That program, which started in 2012, is a joint effort by Caterpillar Inc.’s Sanford fabrication facility in the Industrial Park, CCCC, Lee County Schools and the N.C. Department of Labor. Training is taking place at the college’s Lee County Campus, the Industry Training Center and Caterpillar.
“I am so proud of you for entering this program,” Decker told the apprentices. “Apprenticeship programs are really important; they are the wave of the future. Do a great job — that’s how we can recruit more industries to our state.”
Others in the tour group included Cathy Swindell, director of CCCC Industry Services; Anna Lea Moore, Department of Labor Existing Industry specialist for central North Carolina, including Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties; Chuck Keltz, Caterpillar Group Operations manager; Charlie Parks, chair of the Lee County Board of Commissioners; Donnie Oldham, chair of the Lee County Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors; Crystal Morphis, CEO of Creative Economic Development Consulting, which is serving as the interim director of the LCEDC; Brad Simpson, chair of the Sanford Area Chamber of Commerce; Lisa Minter, Lee County finance director; Jerry Pedley, president of Mertek Solutions; Dr. Lisa Chapman, CCCC executive vice president of Instruction; Dr. Pam Senegal, CCCC vice president of Economic and Community Development; and Kendall Crawford, CCCC Industry Services trainer.
“Visits like Secretary Decker’s are important,” Senegal said. “They showcase the level of advanced manufacturing happening in Lee County. They also showcase not only what the college is doing, but also what companies are doing in partnership with it.”
For more information about industry training through CCCC’s Industry Services Office, call (919) 718-7212 or (919) 718-7490.