Ribbon cut for industrial maintenance laboratory


Several Indiana colleges have their name outside the Jackson County Learning Center in Seymour.

Soon, Vincennes University will be added.

On Thursday, the state’s first college officially opened its new industrial maintenance training lab at the learning center at 323 Dupont Drive in partnership with Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., Jackson County Education Coalition, the city of Seymour and Jackson County.

Vincennes will offer four courses — basic electrical, basic mechanical, intermediate electrical and intermediate mechanical — in the 1,600-square-foot, state-of-the-art training lab filled with high-quality equipment.

That includes AC/DC electrical systems, electric motor control with troubleshooting, electronic sensors, mechanical drives, chains, belts and gears, pneumatics, hydraulics, motors with troubleshooting, bearings and lubricants, laser shaft alignment, vibration analysis and power and control electronics.

VU President Chuck Johnson said the lab is a testament to various entities coming together to address a critical need for the state and region — a well-qualified workforce.

“VU is so proud and honored to be here with you and be your partner in this venture because we believe we can be a great addition to this team,” he said during Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“One of the great things about Vincennes University beyond the wonderful educational opportunities provided through traditional mechanisms, traditional pathways is the way our workforce and community development folks work together to address needs that are different in each region or community but still have some common threads,” he said.

Among those threads is the goal of getting people to work with skills they need that will sustain them not just for today but into the future, Johnson said.

“We’re not talking about building jobs. We’re talking about building careers and lives, and I think that’s what this environment, this facility represents today,” he said.

Johnson said local industries partnering with the local and state entities shows their commitment to developing their workforce and investing in the community in the future.

“This builds on many of the types of things we’ve done in a variety of areas, and it’s really great to be able to plant the VU flag in this community and be able to be part of something exciting for the future,” he said. “I can’t say enough about how proud we are to be here, how excited we are to be able to be part of the solution going forward and how much I’m looking forward to seeing VU’s name on the sign out front.”

In July 2022, the Seymour Redevelopment Commission pledged its support to expand classes at the learning center. That allowed JCIDC Executive Director Jim Plump to continue to talk to local industries to get them on board, too.

If that happened and $240,000 was put in from the Regional Economic Acceleration and Development Initiative grant, the project could come to fruition. The total budget was $1.84 million, and the grant required a match of public and private dollars.

During meetings in May and June, Plump shared he had secured funding from local companies, including Cummins, Valeo and Aisin, and the redevelopment commission approved its contributions of $240,000 for 2022 and $240,000 for 2023.

Part of the money was used to purchase equipment and hire an instructor for maintenance classes.

“With the large concentration of industry in Seymour, Jackson County and the surrounding area, the need for maintenance training was constantly mentioned as a need during our conversations with companies,” Plump said.

“As we met to try and figure out how we could pull something like this together, the reputation of Vincennes University’s training programs made it an easy call to see if they could be our partner to offer this training,” he said. “We are extremely excited about this partnership to help expand our workforce development efforts.”

Heidi Young with Indiana Economic Development Corp. said Gov. Eric Holcomb launched READI to encourage regional collaboration and data-driven, long-term planning that when implemented would attract and retain talent in Indiana.

Regions across the state applied and were awarded a combined $500 million to invest in projects that enhance quality of life, quality of place and quality of opportunity within their communities. The south central Indiana region was awarded $30 million and invested $480,000 into this project, Young said.

“The learning lab was prioritized and invested in by the region because it delivers upon the goals of READI,” Young said. “The courses offered here at the learning lab will help to close the skills gap between the local employers and the workforce while also promoting enhanced educational and career opportunities within the community.”

Seymour Mayor Matt Nicholson said several years ago, he was told a community is either dying or moving forward. The new lab is a sign that the city is doing the latter.

“Today, we are moving forward, we’re continuing to step into the future,” he said. “This is a great program, a great chance to develop new partners. I look forward to seeing what it grows into in the future.”

The maintenance courses will start Monday and run for 11 weeks. There will be two groups of 10 students spending eight hours twice a week — time in the classroom next door for lectures and the rest of the time doing hands-on learning in the lab, said Brian Sawyers, instructor and site director.

In early 2024, he said there will be another round of intro classes. Then in mid- to late February, intermediate classes will start.

In talking to the companies, Sawyers said he learned each has a different need. Valeo and Cummins are starting employees in the basic classes.

“These are folks that are possibly going to move into their apprenticeship program in the future,” he said.

Aisin, on the other hand, is utilizing both intro and intermediate courses. Employees who are more advanced in skill sets will take the latter.

In the end, Sawyers said the students will receive a certificate of completion to put in their file and on their résumé.

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