Gateway Technical College officially opened the new RPM Manufacturing Center on its Elkhorn campus Wednesday, marking the completion of a $1.25 million project.
The project included the addition of 3,200 square feet of space for CNC machining and the renovation of 3,000 square feet of additional manufacturing space.
The upgrades were needed as the Elkhorn campus facilities lagged behind those in Racine and Kenosha counties, including the iMET Center in Sturtevant. Rich Shouse, Gateway CNC instructor and curriculum chair, joked that telling Walworth County students they had to go to one of the other campuses for classes was like telling them to go to Mars.
The iMET Center is a 45 minute drive from Elkhorn.
“We’ve seen wonderful investments in education programs in Racine and Kenosha Counties,” said Mike Reader, Precision Plus president, “We’re very excited today to see a similar investment here in Walworth County.”
Reader isn’t just one of the manufacturers hoping to benefit from the expansion; he chipped in $200,000 to make the Reader Precision Machining and Manufacturing Center a reality. He said he had spent a number of years complaining about a lack of solutions to workforce issues until he finally realized he needed to be part of the solution. He said working to get others involved has been a rewarding experience.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes trying to build a network of manufacturers that are willing to get off their backside and be part of the solution,” Reader said.
The investment could pay off for Reader if he can find just a few employees who received training at the RPM Center.
“This hopefully will be a relationship that provides us a pipeline of talented workers for decades,” he said.
The need for Walworth County manufacturers to find new workers is readily becoming apparent as the workforce ages. About one in four of the county’s private sector jobs are in manufacturing and 25 percent of the workforce is over the age of 55, according to U.S. Census data.
Instead of driving 45 minutes for training, students will now be able to learn just minutes from Elkhorn’s main industrial park. Shouse noted there are at least 10 to 15 machine shops just in that area.
“It is important to have this here,” he said.
Gateway Technical College president and chief executive officer Bryan Albrecht acknowledged that keeping facilities evenly developed amongst the school’s campus is a challenge when serving three counties. He also said the public-private partnerships that made the RPM Center possible were important.
“The need that they have for a skilled workforce is dramatic in Wisconsin,” he said.
Reader stressed the need for skilled workers is real, but the perception of manufacturing can still be outdated sometimes.
“Dark, dirty and dangerous has been replaced by bright, clean and safe. Monotonous, repetitive jobs have gone overseas to the low-cost countries without regulations and they are often heavily subsidized,” he said. “Manufacturers compete on a global basis with less than a level playing field. But the successful ones are heavily invested in developing the next generation of manufacturing professionals.”