West Alabama Training Center open in Demopolis

Published 10:41 pm Monday, September 4, 2023

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Wallace Community College Demopolis took a big step forward on Aug. 30 with the opening of the West Alabama Training Center. The project has been three years in the making and is now finally open for anyone interested in the courses it offers.

The former National Guard Armory building is housing the technical center as it can be utilized for several different programs, such as students who are pursuing associate’s degrees receiving technical training. Other industries in the area can also use the center for industry training that is specialized to what they need for their workforce.

The training center idea came up not long after Wallace Community College opened its Demopolis campus. The project cost $3.9 million and funding for the project came from the Alabama Community College Board of Directors.

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“I cannot tell you how much we appreciate the confidence they have in us,” said Demopolis Mayor Woody Collins. “I promise you we will not let you down. This will be one of the most exciting, fun campuses in the entire community college system.”

Marengo County Commissioner Freddie Armstead, Jr. thanked the Alabama Community College system for investing in Marengo County. 

“What you are doing here is going to be a game changer. It is going to change people’s lives in the Blackbelt area. Not just in Marengo County, but any county that touches us,” said Armstead. “The things that you are doing here, and the specialized training you are offering at this campus will definitely change people’s lives.”

Discussing the purpose and overview of the center was Alabama Community College System Chancellor Jimmy Baker. Baker said the Alabama legislature did more for the community college system in its last session than in years past.

“This center is not just for this city or this county. This is going to be and will be a change agent for this entire part of the state of Alabama,” said Baker. “I am just blessed to be in the role to have good people working with us.”

Dr. James Mitchell, President of Wallace Community College Selma, remarked on the campus vision and what services it will provide for students.

The new center will offer a variety of programs and courses such as modern manufacturing, HVAC (Heating, ventilation, air conditioning) technology programs, welding, and commercial truck driving. The building will also have a full machine tool lab for short-term training opportunities for other industries, a full computer lab that will allow for eventual office administration programs.

In addition, the center will work with Whitfield Regional Hospital (WRH) to offer healthcare training for LPN, RN, and patient care.

“This center is truly a team idea. This is truly something that a team came together and made happen,” Mitchell said. “Now we are seeing the fruits of our labors and what can happen when we come together and work together.”

The next speakers were Sen. Robert Stewart of District 23, Rep. Prince Chestnut of District 67, and Rep. Curtis Travis of District 72 who all spoke on the impact the technical center will have on the community. Each of them stressed the need and the importance of community colleges training and growing a strong and efficient workforce.

Stewart, who is a graduate of WCC, said that community colleges are “engines of economic development” and that the opening of the technical center is “monumental.”

“This center aligns with our state’s values of workforce development. That is the direction we are going in as state. That is what we are prioritizing.” said Stewart. “This is an amazing opportunity for our region and the Blackbelt will be better because of this development.”

Chestnut said that from the very beginning of his time in the Alabama legislature he has pushed for workforce development and finding ways to connect existing companies with employees.

“We have such a lack of skills people in this country right now. We don’t have enough plumbers, industrial maintenance people, not enough certified water and waste operators,” said Chestnut. “We need folks who bring something to the table. We need builders. So I commend the system for being able to look and see a need. I thank you for making that a focus.”

Travis said the Demopolis campus has been part of three community college systems, and WCC was “third time’s the charm.”

“It’s an opportunity to keep our people in our community,” said Travis. “It’s a chance to invest in the people. Invest in them and provide all the resources they need. It’s to allow them to stay in the community.”

According to Jo Ellen Martin of the Marengo County Economic Development Board WCC “is an answer to our prayers.”

“God brought you here. He knew we needed you before we even knew we needed you,” said Martin. “This has been years in coming. But it did come at the right time and at the right place.”

Demopolis Campus Director Blaine Hathcock recognized the team at WCC that helped make the technical center a reality.

“What a humbling moment it is to stand in front of you today to mark this special occasion. It has certainly not been all smooth sailing, but rarely are great things accomplished without some obstacles,” said Hathcock. “This moment has been a long time coming and I thank you for your dedication to this project.”