STURTEVANT — Up to 300 invited guests, including Gov. Tony Evers and visitors from industry and other states, on Tuesday helped celebrate the newly expanded and renovated SC Johnson iMET Center, Gateway Technical College’s training ground for advanced manufacturing.
From the podium, Evers said his two chief concerns each night relate to the state’s workforce. “Do we have enough?” Evers said. “And will they be prepared for the future?”
Evers called the expansion of iMET, 2320 Renaissance Blvd., a “critical investment” in responding to those twin challenges.
The expansion added 35,800 square feet of floor space and 12,080 square feet of remodeled space. The iMET (integrated Manufacturing, Engineering and Technology Center) is now 89,170 square feet in size.
The result includes several expanded areas and three all-new ones: the SC Johnson Waxdale Mechatronics Lab, Rockwell Industrial Controls Lab and Connected Systems Institute Room.
Gateway President and CEO Bryan Albrecht later acknowledged that plans by the Foxconn Technology Group to locate in Racine County set the ball in motion for the center’s expansion and renovation.
“I think we recognized that manufacturing was advancing at a pretty rapid pace,” he said, “but it wasn’t until Foxconn came to our community and gave us some insight to what, really, automation was all about and how we could develop products that were integrated around the idea of data science.”
However, all of Gateway’s corporate partners will benefit from hiring graduates of the new training programs, Albrecht said.
Asked how iMET can contribute to the need for a skilled manufacturing workforce as noted by Evers, Albrecht replied, “We’re seeing not only an increase in enrollment of new students coming into the program, but an increase in our incumbent worker training.
“Those are direct contracts with employers so they ‘up-skill’ their workforce. So we can combine up-skilling the existing workforce with an additional new workforce with skills; we’re confident that we can begin to make a dent in the skilled-worker shortage.”
The $5 million in state money for the iMET expansion was only part of the picture. Albrecht said the college put in another $1.5 million, and corporate partnerships added about $4 million in assets.
It is now one of the world’s most advanced manufacturing training centers and a model facility, he said. Other colleges sent representatives to tour iMET Tuesday, Albrecht said, and Gateway hosts about two colleges a week, giving tours.
Albrecht said the expansion allowed Gateway to add new programs including data analytics, supply chain Management and a “full-scale” robotics program with integrated robotic machine language. The new programs started this fall, and Gateway enrollment in manufacturing is up by 6 percent.
“We’re really excited for our students because they’re already receiving job offers based on the skill sets that they’re already learning but will continue to advance,” Albrecht said. And the types of jobs that students are earning are starting at $50,000 to $60,000 a year.
Among Tuesday’s speakers were Richard Vincent, chief business officer for Foxconn Industrial Internet; Caleb Frostman, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development; and Racine Unified School District Superintendent Eric Gallien.
Gallien told the audience, “This partnership (with Gateway) is very important to our school district for three very distinct reasons.”
For one, he said, “We are able to create a different pathway for our students” to be “truly college- and career-ready.”
Secondly, Gallien said, through the partnership with Gateway, they have been able to save students and their families more than $500,000 worth of college credits — credits students are able to build up while still in high school.
Finally, he said, RUSD and Gateway are preparing students for an ever-changing workplace.