New Tech Center To Open In A Year

January 23, 2004
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MUSKEGON — After years of planning, construction is set to begin next month on an $8 million technical education center in Muskegon that will provide a new venue to learn high-tech trades and an added amenity in support of the local economic base.

The Muskegon Area Career Tech Center will offer instruction in a variety of professions and skilled trades to 11th grade and 12th grade Muskegon County students.

Among the courses are electronics and computer repair, machining, automotive and health care technologies, construction trades, Web design, e-commerce and computer-aided design.

“It’s finally coming together,” said Michael Bozym, superintendent for the Muskegon Area Intermediate School District (MAISD) that’s developing the center in partnership with Muskegon Community College.

Under the partnership, Muskegon Community College (MCC) has provided land on its campus and financing for the technical education center that the MAISD will operate.

Bozym said the partnership will enable high school students to seamlessly transition from technical training into a two-year college, including transferring college credit hours for some technical courses to MCC or Baker College of Muskegon.

“This will articulate directly into college,” Bozym said. “You have students on the campus and in some cases they will be shoulder-to-shoulder with students at the college level.”

Muskegon County presently lacks a local career and technical training center, forcing many high school students in the area to travel to neighboring counties — most often Newaygo County — to get the training that they need.

For that reason, development of the technical education center has received strong support and involvement from business organizations, labor unions and the public sector in Muskegon County.

The center also provides another tool for economic development leaders to use in marketing the Muskegon area to prospective employers.

“This is another piece of the economic development puzzle Muskegon hasn’t had,” said Gary Martin, director of career and technical training for the MAISD.

“We’ll have the full package and we’ll be able to deliver.”

The Muskegon Area Career Tech Center will have the capacity to provide instruction for up to 1,000 students annually, double the number who now access vocational training through an assortment of options. Martin said that having a single center generates a critical mass and student volume that will make expensive high-tech equipment, such as a computer-numerical control lathe, an affordable, practical investment.

He explained that school districts now offering technical training on their own have found many equipment purchases cost-prohibitive because of their limited student capacity.

Martin said he anticipates the center expanding into evening and adult classes in the future, as demand for and interest in technical training grows.

“Once you open up, you increase demand when people see what you’re doing,” Martin said.

Voters in Muskegon County approved a 1-mill, 20-year levy in September 2002 to pay to construct, equip and operate the center. The center is targeted for occupancy a year from now.

Planning for the tech center and its curriculum has involved the close participation of businesses and labor unions, Martin said.

He said both sets of interests provided the MAISD with valuable direction as to what kind of training and equipment is needed in the community.

The continued counsel of several industry advisory committees is just as valuable in planning future programming, as the needs of businesses change in the years ahead and as new employment and career trends emerge, Martin added.

“We always have to have the pulse of the labor market and what’s happening in business,” he said. “What’s the next thing going? We continually, as a school district, have to ask what that is.”

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