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Caucus hears of need for JCTC expansion

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By Phyllis McLaughlin

State and local government officials and representatives from the major industrial plants in Carroll County on Saturday took members of the Northern Kentucky Legislative Caucus on a tour of the Carrollton campus of Jefferson Community and Technical College to demonstrate the need for a new facility.

Caucus members attending were State Sen. John Schickel, 11th District (Boone and Gallatin counties and part of Kenton County); Rep. Addia Wuchner, 66th District (part of Boone); Rep. Joseph M. Fischer, 68th District (part of Campbell); Rep. Diane St. Onge, 63rd District (part of Kenton); Rep. Arnold Simpson, 65th District (part of Kenton). Other officials attending included Rep. Russell Webber, 49th District (part of Bullitt), as well as Owen County Judge-Executive Carolyn Keith and Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele, Three Rivers District Health Department Director Georgia Heise, and representatives of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and 4th District U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie.

Building a new campus on Hwy. 227 has been a major goal for Judge-Executive Harold “Shorty” Tomlinson, who opened the meeting. “This project has been worked on by many people,” he said. “It’s not just something that an elected official wants to see.”

Tomlinson said that providing affordable post-secondary education fills a great need for many young people in the region, and expanding the campus would help more of them find good-paying jobs and remain in their hometowns.

In 2011, Fiscal Court, the Carroll County Educational Foundation and North American Stainless ponied up $100,000 each to purchase 35 acres of land formerly owned by Camp Kysoc. That land has been deeded to the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, which plans to build a 40,000-square-foot facility to allow the local college to expand.

“It’s an extraordinary community investment,” JCTC President and CEO Tony Newberry, Ph.D., told the legislators attending. “This is an
extraordinarily important project at the top of our request list,” second only to a similar project at JCTC’s Maysville campus.

The existing three-story facility – built in the early 1900s by tobacco tycoon Ralph M. Barker and at one time the home of Lerman Brothers’ Department Store – offers just 12,000 square feet of space. The need for more and expanded programs has exceeded the physical space available, Newberry said, adding that every other classroom has been subdivided to create more learning space and that former closets have been converted to faculty office space.

“This is a hub for higher education and workforce training for the region,” Newberry said.

With 800 students signed up for fall classes in 2013, he predicted that within two years of completion, the new facility could attract 2,000 or more students. “We’re trying to meet the needs of business and industry, but we can’t.”

Andy Anderson, JCTC Information Technology Project Manager at Carrollton, said the campus offers an excellent Applied Process Technologies program, even though it doesn’t have enough space to offer a lab for students and must rent space at the Area Technology Center at Carroll County High School each semester.

The program is specifically designed to meet the needs of local industry, he said. But, “if we get the number [of students] we need to meet demand, how will we make it happen in this facility?”

Tomlinson said the main concern, regionally, is “finding the work force we need to fill good-paying jobs” available at North American Stainless, Dow Corning, Gallatin Steel, Kentucky Utilities and other plants based in Carrollton. “A high percentage of employees in local industry are expected to be retiring within the next three to five years. Industry is concerned about filling those positions with the quality of employee they are looking for.”

Representatives from each of the plants echoed Tomlinson’s comments.

Joe Rachford, process manager of technical training at Gallatin Steel, said his company is working to build a “pipeline” to bring in qualified employees in to fill positions that will open up through attrition. “We’re trying to re-engineer our training system,” he said, adding that in the next few years, the company plans to offer at least 15 intern positions in electrical and mechanical technology.

He said Gallatin Steel has invested $500 million to build a plant that uses new technology and relies on natural gas; the company expects the facility to bring in 70 new jobs – “all high-tech. This is where the community college needs to support us.”

Rachford acknowledged that JCTC’s Carrollton Campus offers programs that are “like night and day” compared with other community colleges, such as Gateway in Northern Kentucky – especially considering “what little it has to work with” in terms of space.

Still, “this facility needs to grow,” he added. “We don’t have the assets to meet the needs, and we have needs. We need quality people.”

Dow Corning’s Carrollton Plant manager Larry Tarvestad and human resources manager Jebron Hardesty said Dow recruits employees from 12-15 counties in the region, and distance is an issue when it comes to training – especially when the larger community colleges are 40 miles away, at best.

“We’re frustrated when we have to look at schools outside this general area [for training programs],” Tarvestad said. “We need a central location. … Our number one concern is sustainability – the ability to attract skilled employees. Every job we have has a technical aspect.”

Additionally, Dow faces losing many employees to retirement. “Half of our maintenance shop could retire in the next few years,” Hardesty said.

Steve Turner, manager of KU’s Ghent Generating Station, said his company expects to hire as many as 10 employees a year for the next few years “just to maintain the number we have.”

Additionally, the company also has invested about $500 million on new environmental-control equipment that will require an additional 35 employees in the next two years.

“We need a lot more training, right now,” he said. “We’re a Kentucky company and we like to hire Kentucky, but we’re forced to go across the river [to Indiana] to find enough qualified workers.”

Carroll County Memorial Hospital “is in the same boat,” said new CEO Michael Kozar. “We’re looking at half of our employees being eligible to retire. … We have to replenish the work force to help us grow. We’ve been looking for a lab tech for six to eight months and we can’t find anyone. Having programs here, locally, will certainly help our hospital.”

NAS Vice President Mary Jane Riley said that company’s work force is younger, and retirement isn’t as big an issue at that plant, which employs 1,400. “But, we do have a lot of turnover because of the location. It’s not where everyone wants to be.”

Riley said NAS has put two groups of its top employees through additional training at JCTC Carrollton. The result was “excellent automation techs for us,” she said.
“There is a tremendous need for that in this area.”

If JCTC expanded and local residents could get the training they need in Carrollton, jobs would be waiting for them at NAS when they graduate. “In two to three years, [graduates] would have a job with the people in this room,” she said. “The need is so great.”

State Rep. Addia Wuchner of Boone County’s 66th District asked why the project has not yet been funded.

Her colleague, Rick Rand, who represents the 47th District (Carroll, Trimble, Owen, Henry and part of Oldham) and chairs the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee, explained that the project was approved by the General Assembly in 2006, but was one of several line-items vetoed by then-Gov. Ernie Fletcher.

Since the recession hit in 2007, the state has been facing serious economic shortfalls, Rand said, adding that the current 2012-14 budget is expected to fall 2 percent short of projections.

“We’re always concerned about that,” he said, but suggested that now may be the time when legislators stop seeing the project merely as an expense when the General Assembly convenes in January to hammer out the 2014-16 budget. “Something we get caught up in is [thinking] that borrowing money is bad. But we have to look at this as an investment in the people we represent, in our communities and in the businesses and industries that locate here,” Rand said. “We need to look a little deeper. Not all borrowing is a bad investment. It’s not just an expense.”

Rand said he and State Sen. Ernie Harris “have worked long and hard for this [project]. This is the number one project in our district. It’s very, very important. We need it here if we want to support the businesses already located here and to attract new business.”

Rep. Simpson said the case for expanding the Carrollton campus was made Saturday, as far as he was concerned, but agreed with Rand that the legislature has to “come to be at peace with the notion that we can secure more debt. I could support more debt for education purposes, but I’m one out of 138.”

He encouraged the local business and industry leaders to “articulate your concerns on the needs to others in the Legislature. That’s something you can all do.”

Rep. St. Onge agreed, and said it was her understanding that projects like this would take priority when the General Assembly passed legislation this year forcing young people to stay in school until they turn 18. Previously, students could drop out at age 16.

“The rationale was that there would be alternative education programs set up for those who are not inclined to a traditional classroom education,” she said. “This is a perfect opportunity to provide a skilled work force and keep kids in school. … This is a problem throughout the state. Perhaps we could work on something to benefit our kids and fulfill the needs of business and industry.”