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Lanier Tech innovation center creates, saves jobs
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Lanier Tech ammonia program instructor Bill Head, right, works with students Chris Bell, center, and Johnny Coulter in explaining system flow in a two-stage system Thursday afternoon at the manufacturing innovation center’s ammonia refrigeration classroom. The center has been at the Oakwood school for 10 years.

At first glance, the Center for Innovation for Manufacturing Excellence just seems like a place with really cool toys.

A deeper look at the Lanier Technical College center’s happenings will reveal that it is a facility that has impacted industries not only locally but worldwide.

Under the umbrella of the Oakwood school’s economic development department, beginning with the campus’ Ammonia Training Center, which was built a decade ago, and with the addition of the innovation center in 2006, Lanier Tech staff have helped train the employees of leading industry officials.

“Having a well-rounded work force doesn’t happen by accident. We’ve worked with everyone — from industries that produce chewing gum to those creating gas turbine engines,” said Russell Vandiver, Lanier Tech interim president and vice president of economic development.

“It is just as important to create more jobs as it is to save jobs. Here, we feel like we help to save jobs.”

Saving and creating jobs begins with the center’s training and retraining courses.

“We don’t come up with training courses and then go out and try to sell them. We meet with the client first and try to come up with ways to solve their problems,” said Royce Glenn, the college’s economic development director.

“We go in and watch what’s happening and ask questions to determine where they need help. Our training depends on what the clients’ needs are.”

That flexibility in course offerings is possible partly because of the background of the center’s instructors and administrators.

According to Vandiver, center staff have more than 100 combined years of experience in industry.

“We’re all industry people. I had more than 30 years’ experience before I joined Lanier Tech. We know their feelings, what they’re doing and the hurdles that they need to overcome,” said Tim Bala, of the center’s robotics and economic development services department.

“What we do here is offer completely customizable courses to suit our clients’ needs; they’re not canned programs.”

While the center doesn’t offer certification or diploma programs, it does offer employees the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to complete their jobs with maintaining and operating high-tech machinery.

“The classrooms are set up in the labs, so the instructors teach the theory and then they can have immediate hands-on experience,” Vandiver said.

Under the center’s 80 percent hands-on and 20 percent classroom rule, students spend the majority of their time manipulating and learning the equipment, control panels and programs that they will be working with on the job.

“We do a lot of programmable logic controller classes. We bring their computer programs from their plants, and when the students leave they know how to run it and troubleshoot problems,” instructor Joey Watkins said.

Using the actual equipment and programs from specific industries reduces the adaptation curve and allows students to get right to work when they return to their job sites, center staff said.

The courses and other services offered through the center have a positive financial impact on the college’s bottom line and also the community.

“The ammonia training program has a direct, economic impact on the community. The people in training are here (45 weeks out of the year) staying in hotels, buying food and paying for entertainment,” Vandiver said. “We’ve discovered that by running the center to be self-sustaining, we can maintain our staff and also put money back into the college.”

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