Decisions by Volkswagen, Alstom, Wacker and Amazon to build plants in Chattanooga and the surrounding area are bringing significant change to the region. It’s already evident. The companies have hired many workers and will add more. Construction continues on facilities for the big companies as well as the smaller enterprises that will provide supplies and services to them. New partnerships to help prepare area residents for the contemporary workplace have formed as well. The Wacker Institute, a joint project of the company and Chattanooga State Community College, is the latest example of that useful phenomenon.
The Institute will be part of the engineering technology division of Chattanooga State and include four main areas of study: chemical technology, chemical laboratory technology, mechanical technology and electrical and instrumental technology. The Institute will offer associate degrees along with job training. Classes will begin in June, but planning already is well underway for a program that initially will serve more than 500 students. Chattanooga State officials predict that the institute will attract more than 2,000 individuals in the next couple of years.
The main goal of the institute, of course, is to prepare a pool of workers ready to begin work immediately when Wacker begins production in 2013. The company, which is investing nearly $1.5 billion in Bradley County for a polysilicon production plant for the solar power industry, requires a workforce with sophisticated technical skills. The institute’s curriculum is designed to provide those skills. Wacker is likely to be the initial beneficiary of the Institute, but those who complete the institute’s rigorous course work will be well suited for employment at other companies with similar job requirements as well.
Information sessions about the Wacker Institute will be held from 5-6 p.m. on Mondays through May at the Health and Science Center on Amnicola. The Tuesday meetings will be held at the college’s Center for Education and Human Services on Lee Highway from 9-10 a.m. through May. A visit to one or more the sessions could prove to be a life-changing experience.
Beginning in the fall, the Institute and other engineering technology programs will be located in the former Olan Mills Building next to the Chattanooga State campus on Amnicola Highway. A major part of the facility will be a $3-million state-of-the art chemical training plant underwritten by Wacker. The latter is an investment that reiterates the firm’s long-term commitment to the region and to its institutions.
The Wacker Institute is a gratifying addition to the region’s mix of job training programs, including Chattanooga State’s current partnerships with Volkswagen, Alstom, TVAs and other companies. Given the area’s projected economic growth in coming years and the increased demand for a highly skilled workforce that will bring, it is unlikely to be the last.