Wallace State breaks ground on new Technical Education Center for Welding and Entrepreneurship


Left to right: Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Fairview; Wallace State Dean of Applied Technologies Jimmy Hodges; Hanceville Mayor Kenneth Nail; Lance Self, founder and CEO of ZeroRPM; Alabama Senator-Elect Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman; U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R- Alabama; Wallace State welding instructor Jim Thompson; Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics; Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs; Alabama Community College System Board Member, Congressional District 4, Matthew Woods; Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy H. Baker; Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leah Bolin; and Cullman Economic Development Agency Project Coordinator Susan Eller (Russell Moore)

HANCEVILLE – On Friday morning, Wallace State Community College (WSCC) held its official groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction of a new campus facility that will house a new entrepreneurship center/business incubator and will provide substantial new space for the school’s expanding welding program. It will be called the Technical Education Center for Welding and Entrepreneurship.

WSCC Grant Specialist Kristi Barnett talked to The Tribune about the entrepreneurship center.

“It’s actually a business incubation center.  We’re very excited about it. This is going to enable us to offer low-rent office space to up to seven small businesses that are in the startup process,” said Barnett. “We hope to partner with Technology Village in Cullman, so that in Technology Village, that’s where they really develop their business plan, find their seed funding.  That is the think tank, and then they can move down here to launch their business, stay for up to three years at a significantly reduced rate. They’ll have access to a receptionist, high-speed internet, office furniture, the ability to do video conferencing and an entrepreneur-in-residence to support them as they build their business.”

WSCC Dean of Applied Technologies Jimmy Hodges explained the need for an expansion of the welding program.

Said Hodges, “This new welding facility is just going to transform our program.  It’s going to take it to the next level, because we currently have about 50 welding booths in our current facility.  Welders, if you don’t know this, are in one of the highest demand trades in the nation, not just in Alabama, and they also are paid extremely well.  And they can go all over the world and fulfill their trade: you can go work on a pipeline; you can work in a manufacturing facility.

Hodges continued, “But this new building here, it’s going to double and close to triple the size of our current facility, so we’ll be able to serve more students, get more students trained, get them jobs, employed. This facility will include some robotic welding cells, which is something we have not currently been able to teach.  It will include pipe welding, which we have done on a limited basis. So this is going to expand our horizons on what we can offer our students.”

Wallace State estimates the Center will create approximately 98 new jobs and invest approximately $25 million in payroll revenue into the community in the first eight years.  The Center will facilitate connections between faculty and entrepreneurs and improve survival for small and medium-sized startups in their initial years of work.

“Since as early as 2012, we have been working diligently to secure funding for this project,” said Dr. Vicki Karolewics, president of Wallace State. “Wallace State’s involvement in launching ZeroRPM and Sequence Health only strengthened our sense of urgency that a center of this type is essential to the continued growth of jobs through entrepreneurship in our community.  Chancellor (Jimmy) Baker and the Board of Trustees of the Alabama Community College System shared our vision, and with their support and this funding, we will finally see this vision become a reality.”

The groundbreaking is the result of a $2 million grant to Wallace State Community College from the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

“Under the Trump Administration, workforce development and training are of the utmost importance as some workers continue to struggle in communities across the United States,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “This new facility in Cullman will provide the innovative education workers need to compete for jobs in the global economy.”

The Technical Education Center for Welding and Entrepreneurship is expected to open in April 2020.

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