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Workforce development, housing being addressed

Four County Career Center’s (FCCC) future expansion project will add opportunities for two specific careers, but also others once it is complete.

Four County Career Center Superintendent Jeff Slattery was one of the featured speakers at Thursday’s annual luncheon and awards presentation for Williams County Economic Development Corp. (WEDCO).

WEDCO Executive Director Ashley Epling told the crowd housing was one issue the agency has been tackling in the past year along with the Williams County Port Authority, but also workforce development.

“We had 13 businesses participate in the tech cred program last year, I’m hoping we exceed that this year, and Four County is also working to enhance their programs,” Epling said.

Slattery went over plans for a proposed expansion of facilities at FCCC, which will be largely funded through a $14 million grant from the state’s Career Technical Construction Program.

In total, the state budgeted $200 million for the grant program.

“I’m very proud to say, of the $200 million they settled on for expansion, Four County Career Center received the largest grant in the state for $14.79 million,” Slattery said.

He added there will be in kind funds and contingencies paid for locally, however.

The expansion itself is geared toward increasing enrollment within the welding and electrical programs at the facility.

“We receive roughly 55 applicants each year into those programs as juniors,” Slattery said. “We accept 20 welders and roughly 22 electrical workers. We turn away like 60% of applicants. That’s a problem. We’re a school of choice.”

He added as part of the grant application process, FCCC worked with businesses in its enrollment area, as well as all of the economic development agencies to show the state there is a need for the expansion for those particular programs.

The proposed plans call for two, new state-of-the-art labs for each of the welding and electrical departments.

“That means we bring in twice as many kids junior year in both welding and electrical, so we’re going to hopefully increase our student population in just those programs by, hopefully, 80 total students for junior and senior numbers,” Slattery said.

He added the movement of the welding and electrical areas to the expanded area will open up space in the current facility. Slattery said current plans call for improving the industrial services and carpentry programs, as well as possibly the horticulture area.

The grant funds will also allow for planning for future new construction around the expansion, with Slattery noting the FCCC building is more than 50 years old.

Slattery said the grant funds for the expansion need to be obligated by September of this year, which leaves a tight timeline for FCCC, and it is hoped the expanded facility will be open to students by the 2026-27 school year.

“I wish it could be sooner, but we want to do it right,” Slattery said.

Williams County Port Authority Board Member Bill Martin also highlighted the progress that agency has made in the past year regarding housing.

“We’ve been able to sell nine or 10 homes already, and most of them were under contract before they ever finished construction, which is kind of a success story,” Martin said.

The homes the port authority has built and then sell are generally priced in the $160,000 area, which the authority considers workforce housing.

“That means someone who is making $35,000 to $40,000 a year could potentially afford to purchase one of these homes,” Martin said. “And we’ve had some real success stories.”

Martin said some of that success includes the port authority at one point selling four straight homes to single females in the county.

“We thought that was just fascinating,” Martin said. “Single females, got a good job and are not married yet. They had the income and they wanted to be in a new home.”

Martin said the port authority also plans on focusing on some rental units next, and continues to work on bringing a senior living development to Bryan.

That $10 million, 50-unit facility is dependent on state tax credits for which the port authority is applying.

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