By: Justin Smith, The News Reporter
Southeastern Community College and community leaders cut the ribbon Wednesday on the long-awaited Advanced Manufacturing Training Center being touted as a tool to help attract and retain industrial employers to Columbus County.
Pictured at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Southeastern Community College Advanced Manufacturing Training Center Wednesday are (front row, from left) Anthony Clarke, former SCC president; Jack Hooks, chair of the SCC Board of Trustees; Christopher English, SCC president; (second row) Terry Mann, Whiteville mayor; Jennifer Holcomb, president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism; Bobby Ezzell, SCC Board of Trustees member; MacKenzie Park, SCC Student Government Association president; and Gary Lanier, Columbus County economic development director.
“I commend everyone who was involved in this project for helping me to be able to do my job,” said Gary Lanier, Columbus County economic development director. “It’s a lot easier to do my job when I can bring people that are looking at our county and show them this facility.”
The center, a more than 7,000 square-foot addition to SCC’s T-Building, is a symbolic and literal showplace for industry. The lobby walls are decorated with oversized artistic images of turning gears, springs and other mechanics. Visitors strolling the hall can peer through large windows to see instruction happening in labs filled with high-tech machinery, including Programmable Logic Controls Training Systems and a bright yellow robotic arm.
The building houses the college’s mechatronics and electrical engineering programs and offers classes for degree-seeking and continuing education students. SCC can also customize industrial training programs in the space to meet the unique needs of specific manufacturers.
During his remarks at the ceremony, Lanier noted that manufacturing jobs, on average, pay some of the highest hourly wages in the United States. And he said that a recent survey showed that 64 percent of companies that have "offshored" production are considering bringing some or all of those jobs back to the United States.
“That’s something we’ve been waiting on for 20 or 30 years. So, we’re prepared now to take care of some of these companies that are going to come back and create jobs,” Lanier said.
Southeastern Community College President Chris English, left, talks with former president Anthony Clarke in the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.
Former SCC President Anthony Clarke, who left last year to become president of Guilford Technical Community College, told the group that, “The programs within this building will help Columbus County attract new employers, and of equal importance, help the county’s current employers grow by providing a trained workforce for the future.
“In economic development, you must have the capacity on hand to meet industry needs. You can’t promise to have it in the future,” Clarke said.
His successor, Christopher English, took office last month. His remarks included a quote from noted national computer scientist Alan Kay. “‘The best way to predict the future is to create it,’ And create it you have done,” English said.
Whiteville Mayor Terry Mann commended the college’s leadership for investing in a resource that will promote economic development.
“This is going to be a landmark event for Columbus County,” Mann said. “It’s truly amazing. And whether the industry we get is in Acme-Delco or Fair Bluff or Tabor City or Whiteville, long term it’s going to help us all.”
Jack Hooks, chair of the SCC board of trustees, said the ceremony was the “culmination of a lot of hard work.” He thanked Clarke, “who displayed wonderful vision in putting this together and driving it along.”
The trustees’ facilities committee, which was led by former board chair Henry Edmund, deserved much credit for their work on the project, Hooks said. He also recognized the building’s contractor, Whiteville-based Graka Builders, which was represented at the event by owner Buster Carter.
The $5.4 million facility was funded by a portion of SCC’s $6.3 million share of the statewide Connect N.C. bond approved by voters in 2016.
Jennifer Holcomb, president of the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, served as emcee of the dedication ceremony. She noted that the college was forced to invite far fewer guests to the event than desired due to pandemic safety precautions. A video of the ceremony can be viewed at sccnc.edu.