Center’s opening marks ”˜great day’

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Dean Alan Johnson, center, greeted visitors as they arrived this morning to the new Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing at Vincennes University Jasper Campus. A dedication ceremony was held for the new facility, which will provide technology training for college students, learning opportunities for high school and elementary school students and support for local businesses. For a gallery of photos, click here.

By CLAIRE MOORMAN
Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Vincennes University Jasper Campus faculty, local educators and business leaders are hopeful that the new Center for Technology, Innovation and Manufacturing — with its six large lab spaces, a lecture hall, classrooms, computer labs and offices — will bring a new focus to industrial careers in the area.

Music and sunshine filled the atrium of the new building as a couple hundred people filed in this morning for the dedication that kicked off a week of grand-opening activities. VU President Dick Helton, VUJC Dean Alan Johnson and Lt. Gov. Sue Ellspermann were among the speakers at the dedication.

Johnson reminisced about the groundbreaking ceremony 19 months ago and said the building will fill a programming hole for the college. “The state average is about 20 percent of the workforce is in manufacturing. The number (in Dubois County) is more than double that,” he said.

Johnson introduced Ray Niehaus as the new programming director for the center. Niehaus resigned earlier this month as a Project Lead the Way instructor at Forest Park High School.

Ellspermann called today “a great day for Dubois County” and predicted the new manufacturing programs will help keep young talent in the county workforce. Helton said the building will extend the campus and likely will help attract more students.

The 57,000-square-foot center cost $12 million, including $8 million in state funding. In 2011, Dubois County pledged $125,000 and the Dubois County Area Development Corp., now Dubois Strong, contributed $100,000. The City of Jasper added another $50,000. In total, about $750,000 was raised in donations from the local community while the rest came from the VU Foundation.
Crews broke ground on the building in October 2011, and a faster-than-expected work schedule left the center mostly complete by this past March. The facility is about 90 percent identical to another VU advanced manufacturing building in Gibson County, and it will serve to educate manufacturing students at VUJC and local high schools, as well as provide support for local companies.

Glenn Weil, director of the Patoka Valley vocational cooperative, toured the building in March and said he is excited for the new opportunities it will give to students he works with in the county high schools and to even younger kids in the middle and elementary schools.

“The building is very unique and impressive. I think with computer programming, computer numeric controls and machinery, the opportunity to stay up to date on all of that stuff is a great thing for the community,” said Weil. “We can expose that to high school students and hopefully wipe away the stigma that manufacturing is not fun or it’s not a lucrative career. It involves quite a bit of intellect. I’m hoping that it will show high school students what opportunities are out there and we can partner that way with the center.”

Matt Weinzapfel, vice president of manufacturing at Jasper Engines & Transmissions, has toured the building twice as a member of the college’s community advisory committee. He says the “beautiful facility” will be a boon to the local economy.

“I think the challenge now is to make sure that we can establish education programs there that will benefit us as local manufacturers,” he said. “Manufacturing is such a huge component of our local economy, and it is challenging to find qualified people to take on the jobs.”

The week’s events will continue Wednesday with a workshop on advanced 3-D printing technologies using the center’s new printing equipment and a dinner for high school superintendents, principals, counselors and students. Thursday, the college will host a seminar on ridding the manufacturing process of waste as well as the Jasper Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Time Out from Business open house. The grand opening will close with educational events for younger students, with a mobile application programming workshop for high school students Friday afternoon and a family open house with technology activities for elementary and middle school kids Saturday.

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.




More on DuboisCountyHerald.com