Industry demand for high-skilled tech workers has propelled Motlow’s McMinnville campus toward a $5 million expansion, with groundbreaking as early as next spring.
Following a successful opening just three years ago, the Motlow Automation & Robotics Training Center (MARTC) will add 7,000 square feet of classroom and laboratory space to its existing facility to answer the surging needs for employees in Mechatronics and cybersecurity.
“The original building (12,500 square feet) is just too small to accommodate the number of students and the equipment,” Larry Flatt, MARTC director, explained.
“We could easily graduate 80 Mechatronics students in the first year and potentially 30 in cybersecurity,” he predicted, suggesting those numbers would likely tilt higher in the next few years. Talent-hungry employers are currently offering starting salaries of $45,000-65,000 a year for graduates of the two-year Mechatronics program, he noted.
Flatt outlined the expansion plan in a meeting here last Wednesday with Tennessee state Representatives Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) and Paul Sherrell (R-Sparta). Others key officials in the discussion included Dr. Michael Torrence, president of Motlow State Community College, and Warren County Schools Director Dr Grant Swallows.
State-of-the-art training and career advancement through the MARTC programs obviously benefit Tennessee students and their families, Flatt observed. But the vastly increased earning potential of their graduates is also a major boost to the state’s economy, he emphasized.
A highly-skilled workforce is a powerful magnet for top-paying industries thinking about locating in Tennessee or enlarging their existing plants here, he said. When state and local governments invest in post-secondary education and career-technical training, the economic returns can be immense, rebounding the benefit of all citizens of the state and community.
The funding for the MART expansion will come from Motlow’s internal resources and is supported by the profitable services the local center provides to presently-employed students from all over the nation, Flatt said. In one of its two principal missions, the campus offers one-week courses to upgrade the skills of workers using computer-driven robots in manufacturing and in industrial automation. About 80 percent of those tuition-paying students come from outside Tennessee, and each pays some $2,000 for the five days of training, he commented.
The creation of the Motlow Automation & Robotics Center was decisive in investors’ decision to locate the new Hampton Inn in McMinnville, just across Sparta Highway from the campus, according to local development officials.
Citing the case of Ford Motor Company’s Blue Oval mega-plant in rural West Tennessee—needing to hire some 20,000 skilled workers—Flatt underscored the soaring need for training in the latest industrial technologies.
“I don’t care how big you build (training facilities) you can’t stand up enough capacity to train them fast enough,” he offered.
A major pipeline for higher-order training is the dual enrollment program that allows Warren County High School students to earn credits toward their freshman year in Motlow’s Mechatronics curricula. The state offers financial aid for participating students, but only for juniors and seniors.
At approximately $2,000 a year, the dual enrollment option might be economically off-limits for some students and their families.
In Warren County, the Citizens for Progress scholarships—funded entirely by donations from individuals and businesses—is covering the costs for 11 local sophomores choosing that time-saving option.
“To my knowledge, only in Warren County can you start as a sophomore thanks to Citizens for Progress, which is paying the tuition,” Flatt told the Southern Standard.
Flatt and Torrence called on Cepicky and Sherrell to support legislation that would provide state funds to cover the dual enrollment tuition for high school sophomores state-wide. Cepicky is a leading member of the House Education committees and subcommittees.