Fed’s grant boosts RCC tech center

Rogue Community College will ramp up its technology offerings — and RCC tech graduates will ramp up their earning potential — thanks in part to a $1.2 million federal grant that will help the school create a High Technology Training Center in White City.

The grant is the latest in a string of funding successes the school has recorded as it prepares to begin work this summer on the tech center. Just last week, the school announced it had received $250,000 from Meyer Memorial Trust to purchase state-of-the-art equipment for the center. And voters in 2016 approved the bulk of the money through a $20 million bond.

It all adds up to a great leap forward for RCC’s technology programs, said Steve Schilling, RCC’s dean for the School of Science and Technology.

“We’ve only been able to talk about it,” said Schilling, noting that the idea for the new center has been in the works for a year and a half. “… Now we have the bond, several grants, and we’re moving ahead.”

According to a release from RCC, the grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce/Economic Development Administration totals $1,246,870 and will go toward renovating an existing building adjacent to the college’s Table Rock Campus in White City.

When completed, the new technology center will train workers in manufacturing/engineering, welding and high technology, and provide an “innovation maker space” where companies and entrepreneurs — and students — can work on research and development projects. The center will be located at 7932 Pacific Ave., White City.

According to the grant proposal, the project is expected to create 77 jobs, retain 59 jobs and generate $2.15 million in private investment.

And that may pale in comparison with the potential for the kinds of “high-wage, high-demand” jobs graduates will be able to move into, said Schilling.

Those jobs range from high-tech welding to robotics, 3-D printing and mechatronics, which merges electronics with mechanical manufacturing.

Schilling noted that the technology center will allow all the disciplines to be in one building, which makes sense in the technology industry, “where there’s so much cross-pollination going on.”

The center will give students hands-on experience with such tools as a 3-D printer wand, Schilling said, and will provide more opportunities to work with business partners such as Erickson, Boise Cascade, Carestream Health, Timber Products and Naumes.

There will be some excellent opportunities and excellent salaries,” he said. “That really gives us the opportunity to start marketing to students who are being pushed toward or are thinking about a four-year university, a way to get them into our environment where they will be doing hands-on work.”

RCC President Cathy Kemper-Pelle said in a release that the $1.2 million grant was essential to the success of the project, and that U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden all assisted in the process.

“Southern Oregon’s congressional delegation?provided crucial support in the?final phase of? EDA?grant approval,” she said. “We thank them and their teams for putting a priority on training and education for Southern Oregonians.”

The members of Congress also weighed in with comments.

“This $1.2 million investment in Rogue Community College’s Table Rock Campus will position Oregonians to train for good, high-wage jobs — an asset to the region and our entire state,” Merkley said.

Walden called the grant a “sound and timely investment,” adding “RCC will create a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing and welding technology facility, providing graduates with the required skills and experience needed to get, maintain, and advance in well-paid manufacturing jobs.”

Walden noted it will also be a boon to Rogue Valley manufacturers. “Their industry will benefit from the innovative and collaborative experience of working directly with RCC staff and student-workers to bring this program and product ideas to fruition,” he said.

RCC expects completion of the technology center in winter 2018.