HANCEVILLE, Ala., July 24, 2007 -- Wallace State Community College in Hanceville made its pitch for a robotics innovation center to Governor Bob Riley on Tuesday. The proposed Alabama Robotics Innovation Center would serve as a national center for robotics research, education, and training.
Wallace State President Vicki Hawsey was joined by Peggy Smith, Director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency, in presenting this workforce education and economic development project.
"I want this to be a world-class facility," said Governor Bob Riley. "I believe we can build something in Alabama that is unique in the country."
Riley said that he has been told by major manufacturers that if Alabama builds such a facility, they will send employees from across the country to train here. "But it has to be the best, or someone else will duplicate it," he said.
"We believe that Cullman is the ideal place and that Wallace State is the ideal partner," said Hawsey.
"We have laid the foundation for this center with state-of-the art training in our career technical and workforce education programs. We have strong partnerships with industries and educational institutions, and we have a proven record of excellence and cooperation," she said.
Wallace State focused much of its presentation on its capacity to provide training to meet the needs of industry employers and its proximity to the major advanced manufacturing facilities in the state.
"Our goal is to serve the greatest number of industries in a center that is second to none, while providing training that is economical and accessible to industries," Hawsey said. "Wallace State's strategic location is central to the majority of advanced manufacturers in the state."
Cullman is at the heart of Alabama's automotive corridor and centrally located among the southeast's advanced manufacturing industries, including those in the aerospace, biomedical, security, and defense. It is uniquely positioned between two of the state's major population areas, Birmingham and Huntsville, making training for much of the state's workforce within an hour's drive of campus.
"The proximity of Wallace State to Alabama's population bases and large automated manufacturing facilities, along with the college's future-oriented leadership, combine to make Cullman County the perfect location for this initiative," said David Byers, Vice President of the State Board of Education.
Wallace State is similarly positioned among many of the state's universities, colleges and high schools. Through partnerships with universities, students at Wallace State may complete their bachelor's degrees on campus. Wallace State was the first community college to create an Athens State university center on its campus.
Its reputation for cooperation has extended to workforce education. Wallace State is one of five CARCAM (Consortium for Alabama's Regional Center for Automotive Manufacturing) institutions and the location of one of the state's Alabama Technology Network (ATN) Centers. The Wallace State FastTrack Academy, a dual enrollment program on campus for career- motivated high school students, is a national model.
The college has taken the lead in training the area's workforce and already offers training in robotics in four programs of study.
"Right now, we are training generalists. Our industries need specialists. This robotics innovation center would allow us to train specialists," said Hawsey.
Presentations in support of the Center were made by industry representatives Charles Watson, Plant Manager of REHAU, Inc.; Bill Buchanan, Plant Manager of Topre America Corporation, Brad Pepper, Gorika Manager of Topre America Corporation, Jim Willoby, Senior Vice President of Alabama Cullman Yutaka Technologies; and Martyn Acreman, General Manager of Axsys Technologies.
Watson said, "I see a facility like this in Cullman County as vital to us." Currently, REHAU must send employees as far away as Wisconsin, Michigan, and even Germany to train on REHAU-specific robots. "That's a tremendous cost in travel, and time away from family and from the plant," he said.
Watson said that Wallace State has been a great resource for the company in other types of training.
"Anytime we've needed help from Wallace State, they've been there for us," he said.
Buchanan and Pepper recently toured Wallace State's welding department. "We were absolutely blown away. We were so impressed," Buchanan said. "I have no doubt a robotics center would be even more impressive."
According to Willoby, it is extremely hard to find individuals who already know how to operate robots. "We'd probably bring our folks from Ohio down here to train at this facility," he said.
Approximately two-third of employees at Axsys Technologies, a government contractor for the aerospace and defense industry, have received some training at Wallace State, according to Acreman.
Wallace State's tradition of excellence in teaching and learning, along with its technologically-advanced learning environments, customized training capabilities, and partnerships in business and industry and economic development have garnered recognition and accolades across the state and nation.
Hawsey closed by saying to Governor Riley," We understand your vision and are ready to be a part of it in whatever capacity you would like for us to be."
"You've made a great presentation," said Riley. "You have really accelerated my decision making process. We've got to make this a priority on the Board (of Education). We don't have enough money to do everything we need to do. But when we have the opportunity to do something fundamentally great, we need to do it."