M-TEC Reaches Funding Goal

May 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS – A $4.5 million fund-raising campaign for a new technical training center has hit its goal, leaving further gifts to go toward future improvements.

Backed with scores of contributions from the private sector and a $3.3 million state grant, Grand Rapids Community College expects to begin construction this spring on the $10.9 million Tassell Michigan Technical Education Center, or M-TEC, this spring.

A capital campaign launched 11 months ago to raise private contributions for the center will continue through late March or early April with appeals to small- and medium-sized businesses. Contributions beyond the $4.5 million fund-raising goal will go into a fund to pay for the future replacement of equipment and other capital improvements, said Victoria Janowiak, executive director of the Grand Rapids Community College Foundation.

"The first challenge in any education training facility now is how do you sustain state of the art after you build state of the art," Janowiak said.

Planned for 11-acre site at Rumsey Street and Godfrey Avenue on Grand Rapids' southwest side, the Tassell M-TEC will offer vocational training for adults in construction trades and automotive and manufacturing technologies. The facility is named after Leslie E. Tassell, the founder and former owner of Lascoa Corp. who donated $1.5 million to support M-TEC's development.

Planning for the center's development has required a close working alliance between the college and private sector to generate financial support and plan curriculum. When he first proposed the development of a series of M-TECs across the state to address a shortage of high-skilled workers, Gov. John Engler made private sector involvement a mainstay of the effort.

The state in 1999 awarded 18 M-TEC grants totaling $60 million to train people in high-demand, high-paying professions. Seven of the facilities are now open, including an M-TEC in Ottawa County that GRCC developed in cooperation with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District.

Engler's idea in requiring private sector support was that the business community is a primary beneficiary of the school and its involvement is crucial to a center's success.

"M-TEC is more than a facility. It's a concept, and the way the state wants us to do business is to partner with employers," said George Waite, GRCC's director of occupational training. "They (state officials) don't want you to prepare folks for jobs that don't pay well or aren't needed."

Locally, that has meant working with businesses and industry trade groups such as the Grand Rapids Home Builders Association, Grand Rapids New Car Dealers Association, and the Associated Builders and Contractors Western Michigan chapter, Waite said.

To John Doherty, executive vice president of the Associated Builders and Contractors' local chapter, participating in the project was essential.

The construction industry has faced a shortage of 40,000 to 50,000 workers a year nationally for the past five years. At a time when the average age of a construction worker is 49 years old, and with a tendency among those in the trade to move into other fields when they reach their mid-50s, Doherty says the industry needs to do all it can to recruit young people into a construction career.

The Tassell M-TEC will enable the local ABC chapter, which presently helps to train about 500 people annually through an existing apprenticeship program, to step up recruiting efforts, he said.

"This was an opportunity for us rather than an obligation," Doherty said of M-TEC. "There's going to be a lot of openings and a lot of potential down the road for construction careers and that's going to make the race for the best and brightest all the more quicker."

Once open in January 2002, the Tassell M-TEC will offer training to an estimated 3,500 people annually. GRCC will then close an aging training facility at Leonard Avenue and Ball Street, Waite said.

The center was originally slated to open this fall. The date was pushed back as GRCC and Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. work to resolve environmental issues with the site. MichCon donated the land, valued at $1 million, to GRCC and made a $250,000 donation to the capital campaign.

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