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(Janesville, WI) Gazette Editorial

Stroll into the inviting lobby of Blackhawk Technical College’s new Advanced Manufacturing Training Center, and you’ll see a sandwich and snack cove where students pay not with cash or debit cards but a fingerprint scanner that charges their accounts.

The technology symbolizes things deeper inside. Computers instead of books even fill the adjacent library.

The attractive but modest entrance at 15 N. Plumb St., Milton, belies the 100,000-square-foot interconnected complex of what once were seven buildings that housed Burdick Corp. and later ANGI Energy Systems.

Half the center opened last fall with the welding, computer numeric control and industrial maintenance programs. Joining them this autumn are students studying computer service; manufacturing information; electromechanicals; and heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

No longer do programs share space. Nor must they move one workstation aside to make room for another. Each program has twice as much room or more. Enclosed lecture rooms sit adjacent to labs housing computers, big machines and projects. This proximity from instruction to hands-on application keeps students engaged.

The programs offer real-world experience using modern equipment that matches or exceeds that in local factories where students might work. Even learning stations apply the latest technology. In one classroom, the instructor can push buttons to pull up or retract computer monitors at desks. In the welding lab, instead of trying to huddle around an instructor to absorb techniques while wearing masks, students can observe on large monitors. One large room will help students hone the soft skills of communication and teamwork as they collaborate on projects.

The bright, clean environment mirrors modern manufacturing—no longer dark, dirty and dingy. Young women study alongside men. The college even has a female welding instructor with impressive credentials.

The center has 226 students, about half of what it could instruct. Many hold jobs while learning new skills, but most are full-time students. Most of the classes are at or near capacity or enjoying enrollment surges. The center could teach more students more hours of the day if demand merits. Already, employers are clamoring for graduates. A representative with an Oregon, Illinois, company recently visited in hopes of recruiting workers.

The complex was expensive. The college approved $11 million in borrowing that taxpayers in Rock and Green counties must help repay. Officials still need to raise half of the $2.1 million earmarked from donations.

The outreach to business partners, prospective students and curious residents kicks into high gear this month, starting Friday, the fourth annual National Manufacturing Day. Bus tours of the center will leave the college’s Monroe campus at 8 a.m. and the Beloit campus at noon.

“Having a world-class facility that trains students to be adaptable, talented and multi-skilled is a great benefit to our area employers,” said Elizabeth Horvath, the college’s director of advancement and community relations.

Regardless of freeway expansion delays, employers should find Rock County attractive because the college can offer their employees a high-quality education. The center should be a major asset for recruiting new industry to our region for decades.

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