Several speakers at a Wednesday morning update meeting told local government and business leaders the Communiversity is being built to train workers for the jobs of tomorrow.
To that end, East Mississippi Community College is in the midst of creating a curriculum to help prepare the facility to train the region’s workforce for the jobs that are already here, and those still to come.
The Communiversity is a manufacturing-focused education center, operated by EMCC, that’s currently under construction on Highway 82, just west of PACCAR and a short drive from the college’s Golden Triangle campus in Mayhew. The $42.6 million facility is being funded with local, state and federal dollars.
EMCC President Thomas Huebner said the college is working with its accrediting agencies to prepare new programs for the Communiversity — specifically an electro-mechanical program and mechatronics programs, and others that aren’t yet far enough along to mention.
“These are what we would call the next generation, equipping industries for their specific needs,” Huebner said.
The Communiversity is being built to accommodate up to 500 students, along with 13 program instructors, six credit/non-credit instructors, two career navigators, two manufacturing workforce staff, project writers, trainers and outreach personnel, along with an information specialist, a receptionist and a dean.
Several of the programs EMCC offers at the Center for Manufacturing Technology Excellence (CMTE) will move to the Communiversity, including automation and control technology, electrical technology, precision manufacturing and machining technology and engineering technology, drafting and design.
Huebner said EMCC regularly reaches out to local businesses and industries for feedback as it prepares curriculum for the Communiversity.
“Being a community college means that we’re going to, by our very mission, be tied to our local community,” Huebner said. “So we have to be thinking on a daily basis about how we can meet the needs for our community.
“With regards to business and industry, we know we’re a fundamental part to train their workforce and meet their needs, and we want to be the best at that we can,” he added.
At one point during the meeting, Golden Triangle Development LINK CEO Joe Max Higgins said he’s received inquiries in the last month from construction professionals about how the Communiversity could assist in producing trained construction employees.
“They’re saying ‘We’re looking out there and we’re not seeing talent in laying water lines and sewer lines and dirt and paving’ and stuff like that,” Higgins said. “Is there an opportunity for some of those programs?”
Huebner said he’s considered the matter, but construction programs can be difficult.
“Those are very difficult programs to populate with students for a lot of different reasons,” Huebner said. “A lot of times construction folks will hire their own people and … teach on the job.”
Still Huebner said EMCC is “absolutely” open to meeting with construction companies and brainstorming how to offer programs to train construction workers.
Jason Morgan, project manager with West Brothers Construction, said the Communiversity project is about three to four weeks behind schedule due to heavy rains hitting just as work began. However, he said it should still be completed by the end of 2018, which would allow EMCC to occupy it in January 2019.
Huebner said he hopes to have the facility “fully operational” in time for the fall 2019 semester.
CMTE ‘on steroids’
Throughout the meeting, officials described the Communiversity as the CMTE “on steroids.” At more than 130,000 square feet, the facility is four times larger than the CMTE at EMCC’s Golden Triangle campus. It features 21 customizable bays for manufacturing education, as well as 15 classrooms, a showroom to showcase locally made industrial products and other amenities.
Higgins told The Dispatch he thought the meeting was helpful, both as an informational session about how the project is progressing, and as a chance for businesses, such as the construction companies, to raise questions about how the programing at the facility might impact them.
“I think the more we know about what’s going on, then we can tell people out there,” Higgins said. “Because right now, people drive by and it’s a big building. They don’t really know what it is.”
Whatever the future brings, officials say the Communiversity is being built to offer the flexibility to meet the Golden Triangle’s needs moving forward. That need for flexibility was perhaps best illustrated when Chris Morrow, with architectural firm PryorMorrow, recalled hot dog machines being the big-ticket idea when the CMTE was built in the late 1990s.
“I’ll never forget at the time we were sitting around talking about (how) we were gonna train people on how to make hot dogs,” Morrow said. “Because in ’98, what was the big industry? It was Bryan Foods. Even in some of the drawings, we had great big high-tech hot dog machines — that’s what we were gonna do.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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