Youngtown State University's 54,000-sq.-ft. Excellence Training Center is "on time, on target and on budget," said David Sipusic, who serves as executive director of the under-construction facility.
YSU broke ground on ETC in mid-May, and Sipusic anticipates construction will be complete in March 2021, having not yet succumbed to any COVID-related setbacks. Along with spring release of $6 million worth of federal and state grants for the $12 million buildout, the university and its collaborators "have been very fortunate," according to Sipusic, that materials and suppliers have been readily available to keep construction on track.
"I guess you could say the stars are aligned," he said.
Once fully operational, ETC will house $10 million in advanced manufacturing equipment and other industrial machinery. The center is expected to inject trained personnel into Mahoning Valley's anemic manufacturing work force pipeline, especially when it comes to the regional's growing demand for specialized skills.
"We are going to have a variety of equipment and programming from the more traditional aspects of manufacturing like machining, CNC machining and stamping, all the way up to high-end advanced manufacturing technologies like advanced 3D printing, robotics and automation," Sipusic said.
Such a broad range of equipment and technology, according to Sipusic, will allow the center to meet the needs of a diverse set of learners, including YSU's collegians, non-degree students from area vocational programs, and adults who are upskilling or changing careers. Meanwhile, YSU faculty and industry partners also will utilize the space and its equipment for research and commercial projects and create a unique opportunity for students "to see what a future in modern manufacturing looks like," he said.
Sipusic expects the university's strong presence in additive manufacturing, in particular, to materialize into both applied research and commercialization opportunities at ETC.
ETC was informed, at least in part, by other university-based technology outfits, including Ohio State University's Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence, the Wright State Research Institute and the Keck Center at the University of Texas at El Paso. Yet, Sipusic said the Youngtown center's sweeping mandate makes it standout among those peers.
He noted, for example, that a handful of "partners," including Eastern Gateway Community College, based in Steubenville; four regional career centers (Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties and Youngstown); and industry groups such as the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition will provide programming at ETC in addition to YSU's own education, training and research efforts.
"The fact that we are trying to bring together work force development, education and active research and commercial projects all under one roof is a unique combination," the executive director said. "That's not something you see often."
ETC will be located on the south end of campus at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Commerce Street. The finished space includes the renovation of an existing 24,000-sq.-ft. structure—a former youth detention facility—and a 26,000-sq.-ft. addition. Sipusic said the addition will provide a high bay clearance to accommodate larger pieces of equipment.
He estimates it will take two to three months to move in all of the equipment and get it properly calibrated once construction is complete. Short-term certificate programs in the machining area will be the first to come online, possibly in late spring, Sipusic said, followed by "more robust programs" in the summer. Autumn 2021 should usher in ETC's first "full slate of courses for education and workforce development," he said.
MVMC executive director Jessica Borza said the center will address one of the biggest roadblocks the region has faced when it comes to adequately filling its manufacturing pipeline: training students on costly advanced manufacturing equipment.
"Because the university will centralize that high-end equipment, students from throughout Mahoning Valley—from our career centers, from our community college and from the university—will all get that exposure at the right point in their programs," she said.
A 2015 study found the region averages roughly 2,800 manufacturing openings annually, according to MVMC, and projected that more than 6,600 workers over age 55 will retire from the industry before 2025. Borza expects ETC to alleviate shortages in machining and industrial maintenance, which are two of the biggest needs.
Eastern Gateway Community College's machining program will be co-located at the new training center, she said, giving EGCC students access to "to four- and five-axis CNC machines." Youth and adult learners on industrial maintenance pathways, meanwhile, will benefit from the CNC machinery as well as a variety of other robotics and automation technologies.
"We see the ETC as being a showcase to show young people and parents and career switchers what modern manufacturing is today and how exciting and innovative and creative these jobs are," Borza said.