College and Wacker Chemical Corp. officials cut the ribbon to the 25,000-square-foot center in which technical training and theory will be combined under one roof as part of the school’s engineering technology program.
Dr. James Catanzaro, president of Chattanooga State, said the investment will benefit the community as well as Wacker Chemical Corp. for many years.
“I don’t think there is anything like it in the United States of America, maybe worldwide. It features the largest, most advanced training plant, at least in the United States,” Catanzaro said.
Dr. Ingomar Kovar, president/CEO of Wacker Chemical Corp., said after touring the institute, he could only say he was overwhelmed, adding, “Wow.”
He said, “Today, we officially celebrate the opening of Wacker Institute and in so doing, bring to the Tennessee Valley yet another sustainable resource for creating jobs, improving education and supporting regional development.”
He said the building is much more than brick-and-mortar that was once the Olan Mills professional studio photo finishing company next to the college campus on Amnicola Highway. Wacker invested $3.25 million in the $5 million training facility. The state of Tennessee paid $13.7 million to buy and make infrastructure improvements. The opening of Wacker Institute marks the completion of the first phase of renovation. Eventually, the entire engineering technology department will locate in the building.
“Today, the former Olan Mills facility has been transformed into a unique, modern training facility with a one-of-a-kind training experience,” he said. “Our aim is to prepare Chattanooga State Wacker Institute students for high tech jobs and for training the future workforce.”
The institute includes classrooms and labs in seven rooms, plus a training plant where 65 Wacker employees are learning to distill ethanol. Ten students are enrolled in the next class with more to follow.
Kovar said officials have been impressed with the quality of applicants it has received. Students need math and science skills, and willingness to work as part of a team with a focus on personal and environmental safety.
“Wacker Institute is a high priority for Wacker. If we are to compete and compete successfully in the global photovoltaic industry, which is one of the fastest-growing industries, we must have competent, well-trained and qualified people,” Kovar said. “These students are current and future employees who will be ready to go on Day 1 when the plant opens in late 2013.”
The curriculum focuses on chemical, chemical laboratory, mechanical and instrumental technologies.
Kovar said it takes the right technology and raw materials to produce hyperpure polysilicon at the $1.8 billion plant near Charleston, “but at the end of the day, it is the people who make it happen.”
Cormetech Plant Manager Denise Rice, who is also president of Cleveland Associated Industries, was present at the ribbon cutting and toured the institute.
“I think there are some very unique training techniques they are using that will be able to be translated to other manufacturing very easily, and Cleveland Associated Industries and I think there would be a lot benefits from using this training facility for a number of those companies,” she said.
The most important aspect of training she saw was the focus on safety and the environment. Cleveland Associated industries includes 27 Bradley County manufacturing companies that employ more than 6,000 people.
“You don’t really find that type of training in just any community college or technical college,” Rice said. “In that aspect, they are very progressive and way ahead. A lot of companies want their employees not only to be safety conscious, but environment conscious — what you’re working with and how you are affecting your community.”