TEXARKANA – When the University of Arkansas Community College’s Texarkana campus opened in Hope-Texarkana in 2012, “we ran out of space pretty quickly,” says Laura Clark, vice chancellor for academics.
For example, when the industry needed a place to train workers, there was no available space in Texarkana to offer, she said.
But the new Farmers Bank & Trust workforce center – which has housed students and individuals since January – is addressing those concerns, she said.
The 15,000-square-foot building is a modern training center for students in the area and will house both the Arkansas High School Collegiate Academy and the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center, according to Casey Curtis, the college’s communications coordinator. It will also function as a community meeting place and a place for business and industry training.
The college will hold a grand opening of the staff center on Thursday, and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be in attendance to officially inaugurate the facility.
“I’m very excited to join [UA Hope-Texarkana] team to celebrate the opening of their new work center,” the governor said in a statement from the college. I know this new center will help Arkansas students graduate with the skills they need to find a high-paying job right in their community right after graduation.”
UA Hope-Texarkana Chancellor Christine Holt said the new Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center on the Texarkana campus makes the campus not just a “first” destination for “education and training,” but a real one “Community facility”.
“Part of our mission is to help our partners in secondary education prepare our students for life after high school, [and] the Secondary Career Center is one of the great programs we offer [to] Help students get a head start in college, or give them a credential to work in a quality career field straight out of high school,” Holt said, graduating while still in high school.”
The Secondary Career and Technical Education Center can be an enticing path for certain students, Clark said. For those not interested in a college degree, “at least have a skill — or skills” — for the workforce.
With the college academy modeled after a successful program in Florida, “we take them into 10th grade and immerse them in a college environment,” she said. “From 11th grade on, they’re college students, and it’s remarkable to see their” growth and success.
Like the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center, the college academy is free for undergraduates and is a “phenomenal opportunity,” Holt said. “They really stand out from their peers.”
Mikki Curtis — dean of secondary programs, which includes Arkansas High Collegiate Academy and the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center — believes the new staffing center can increase enrollment in both programs, which currently have about 130 students combined.
“There wasn’t anything like it when I was in high school, and it would have been so valuable to me,” she said.
The welding program occupies a prominent place in the center, including three new courses leading to the welding qualification certificate.
“Manufacturing, of which welding is a key component, is an important industry in Arkansas,” with nearly 12% of the state’s workforce employed in manufacturing, and according to Dean Jennifer Teresa, there have been several thousand in the past year new manufacturing jobs in Arkansas created by engineering and industrial programs. “Welding is also a well-paying profession, with an average annual wage of $22.60 an hour.”
There’s a need for welders in the area, Holt regularly hears from employers, and “it’s so important for us as a college to be responsive to labor needs,” she said.
“We have several industries in Texarkana that hire welders of all shapes and sizes,” Clark seconded. “It’s nice to walk around there [center’s] Welding area with “brand new” tools and technology.
The center’s welding lab not only brings more welding opportunities to Texarkana, it’s more up-to-date than the one on the Hope campus, and the open floor plan benefits both students and instructors, said Bob McFarland, a welding instructor. “We have enough [space]that’s for sure.”
“[We] may [teach] a lot more students, we can have a full range of certifications, and the open floor plan allows me to keep a much better eye on the students,” he added. “It’s also a lot better for demonstrations.”
Welding students Brian Jackson and Sam Black both appreciate the open space and learning opportunities, they said.
This “is bigger than the rooms I’ve ever been in,” said Jackson, who has some welding experience but has returned “to brush up” in hopes of improving his job prospects to better support his family. “I like this.”
He’s grateful to have this program in Texarkana, where he lives, instead of having to drive to and from Hope, he said. “Welding jobs are coming back [to Texarkana]And [this] is much closer to me.”
When Black, 18, heard the job center was opening in Texarkana, where he lives, it helped him enroll, he said. “I’d rather stay here” to learn a trade that “helps me provide for my family.”
“It’s a good place to study,” Black added. “It’s nice here and I like the way everything is open.”
The staff center is named after Farmers Bank & Trust, which is providing $100,000 (in $10,000 in annual donations) for 10 years, a “very significant gift,” Holt said. “This is the first time we’ve done a naming rights opportunity and this money not only supports the building but also programs.”
Farmers Bank & Trust already works with UA Hope-Texarkana “on multiple levels” and will continue to do so because the college is “such an economic engine” in the area, said Elizabeth Burns Anderson, executive director of the Farmers Bank Foundation and a senior Vice President at the bank.
The center will provide opportunities for people from high school to older adults who want to expand their skills, she said. “We need to educate students to find jobs in Arkansas and Arkansas [stay] in the state.”
Human resources development is a focus area for the state, including for colleges and universities, and offerings like this campus-based human resources center send a strong signal to businesses that their region is committed to providing a skilled, educated workforce, she added. “Companies looking at the Texarkana region” will know that the college is fast enough to offer courses and programs employees may need, which can “bring industry to the region.”
In addition to Farmers Bank & Trust, Texarkana-based Ledwell contributed $75,000, while local entrepreneur Curt Green contributed $25,000, Casey Curtis said. The staff center cost around $3.85 million.
Ledwell, “an incredible partner in Texarkana — we’re blessed with good partners — helped with the welding lab, and the weldment piece from that got me so excited because it takes a skill set from so many manufacturers, farms, etc.,” Cook said. It’s “a basic skill that can evolve and opens up so many possibilities for people.”
AR-TX Regional Economic Development Inc. President and CEO Rob Sitterley said he and his organization are “excited” by the college’s “continued investment in our community.”
“Reasonable workforce training centers and growing our talent pipeline are just as important as a location to locate a business,” said Sitterley. “We are excited about the addition of this new center, which will provide residents with opportunities to advance their careers today while meeting the growing talent needs of our employers of tomorrow.”
‘A WIN WIN’
A third of UA Hope-Texarkana’s students are from Miller County, so the students being mentored are hyper-local to Texarkana and will be important parts of the workforce, Holt said. “We want to serve this population to help them improve their lives and the lives of their families.”
The new staffing center “aligns perfectly with our Work Ready Communities initiative at the Texarkana Chamber,” said Natalie Haywood, the chamber’s director of events and communications. “Our goal is to showcase the Texarkana area as a robust career-ready community, and UAHT as a participating school is helping to achieve that goal.”
Serving a “broad swath” of community, from youth through older adults who wish to retrain, relearn, or retrain is a core tenet of community colleges, Holt said. “That’s what a community college does best: offer the right mix of programs that lead to high wages and high employment.”
The new center will also likely allow the college to offer some programs and training that are currently only available on the Hope campus, or “some things that meet needs that may be unique to Texarkana,” Clark said. And in some synergy between the two campuses, a megawatt solar panel on the Hope campus will “offset” the cost of the new work center.
The new center is the latest example of “the growth of a small campus, and it’s a win-win situation,” Cook said. “We want to make sure our students have all of these opportunities.”
The new human resources center “demonstrates the focus of the campus and its regional supporters to remain committed to providing student opportunities in Texarkana that enhance career opportunities for residents and enhance economic growth for the region and – as an added benefit – the region’s highly supportive students.” now have access to expanded facilities that will continue to support them while they take advantage of UAHT’s innovative Arkansas High Collegiate Academy and state-of-the-art secondary career center,” said Chris Thomason, who was Chancellor of UAHT when this project began and is now Vice President for planning and development of the UA System.”The growth of the UAHT Texarkana campus since its inception nearly a decade ago is a great example of the power of partnership between the UA System, our campuses and a supportive community.”