(Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 05, 2012 10:32 PM
After Monday’s announcement that Sowela Technical Community College would receive a $20 million grant from the state, school administrators have met with Sasol officials to discuss what the college can do to meet the company’s projected workforce needs.
The grant money was announced at a news conference Monday in conjunction with Sasol’s plans to invest up to $21 billion at its Westlake facility. The expansion will bring 1,200 permanent positions, 7,000 construction jobs and thousands of indirect jobs, the company said. And the state has committed to funding a new training center at Sowela that will focus on industrial technology.
Neil Aspinwall, Sowela chancellor, said Monday’s announcement made for “one of the biggest days in the history of Sowela.”
“This allows us to focus our efforts and began creating programs and services to answer the needs of the local businesses and industries,” he said Wednesday. “Without a regional training facility like this there is no way we can even begin to meet the needs of the thousands of jobs coming to this area.”
The grant money has been earmarked to purchase land and equipment, design and build a facility, and even to fund instructional staff.
“We are almost at capacity at Sowela, so this gives us the opportunity to expand,” Aspinwall said. “There are a lot of details that still need to be worked out, but we know this is going to be a fast track. With expansions coming, business and industry don’t have time to wait.”
The training center, expected to be up to 75,000 square feet, will be on Sowela’s campus, but Aspinwall said he doesn’t know where yet. Job training will include courses for lab analysts, machinists, process technology and instrumentation programming.
“My hope with the new center is that we have the tools to put Southwest Louisiana residents to work,” said Joseph Fleishman, Sowela’s vice chancellor of economic and workforce development. “This is a long-term commitment, and it gives us a way for us to connect in a very meaningful way with business and industry far into the future.”
Once Sasol’s initial needs are met, the facility will serve the broader needs of growing manufacturers throughout the region, according to the Louisiana Economic Development Department. A study by LSU’s Division of Economic Development estimated that Sasol’s expansion will create a total economic impact of more than $46 million over the next 20 years.