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Money for machine training rolling into place


Greenfield Recorder 05/08/2013, Page A01

By CHRIS SHORES Recorder Staff

TURNERS FALLS — Local manufacturers believe their goal to raise $500,000 for new metal-working machines at Franklin County Technical School — equipment that would be used to prepare both young and old for jobs in the changing industry — is still within reach.

Local companies have donated $214,000, with more pledges on the way, said Steven Capshaw, president of the Greenfield-based Valley Steel Stamp. And Franklin County legislators secured a $200,000 line item in the House draft budget, with hopes that the allocation will increase by $50,000 in the Senate’s budget.

The money would pay for at least 12 new machines — a collection of lathes, mills and grinders — that are powered by computer programming and would replace the school’s 40-year-old manual machines. The equipment would be installed in early July, said Superintendent James Laverty, and renovation work would be done to make the machine shop larger and brighter.

In addition to better preparing the school’s machine technology students for jobs post-graduation, the equipment would help train unemployed or underemployed adults who want to enter the industry. Manufacturers, the Tech School, Greenfield Community College and the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board are joining forces to pilot a “Middle Skills Academy” this fall.

Companies are eager to invest in the project because it is essential to their growth here in Franklin County, said Capshaw. His company turns away 90 percent of the work it is being offered, because of an inadequate supply of skilled workers.

Gone are the days when manufacturers repeat simple physical commands all day long, he said. Today, employees must be able to look at a blueprint and then use advanced math and computer programming to manipulate machines into performing tasks.

House calls for $200,000 toward effort

Capshaw has been working for months to collect $250,000 among local businesses. Then, earlier this year, he asked legislators if they could match the effort with a $250,000 budget contribution.

The county’s legislative contingent — Reps. Denise Andrews of Orange, Stephen Kulik of Worthington and Paul Mark of Peru — fully supported the effort. It didn’t make the House’s Ways and Means budget, but a $200,000 line item has since been written in through an amendment.

Andrews called the effort “an excellent example of private-public partnership to advance manufacturing and jobs in the area.”

Mark agreed, saying that a similar state allocation has seen success in Hampden County.

“This could translate into good jobs right here in the county, right here in Greenfield,” he said.

Kulik said with a tight state budget, some good ideas go unfunded. But what set this effort apart, in his mind, was the local commitment by manufacturers and the evidence that these companies have job openings they are eager to fill.

The question will now be if the Senate’s budget, which comes out later this month, also allocates money toward the effort. Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said he’s been fighting hard for it, but that it is impossible to predict what will happen.

Capshaw sees the Senate as the last hurdle in securing state funding for the project. He believes the effort has the support of the governor’s office.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray toured Valley Steel Stamp in February, later telling The Recorder the shop was a “first-class facility” and touting manufacturing as a chance for people to find good-paying jobs in a growing industry.

Employment board optimistic about ‘Middle Skills Academy’ grant

The Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board is still waiting to find out if it has secured a $240,000 state grant to help fund a “Middle Skills Academy.” But it has already begun accepting preapplications on its website, http://franklinhampshirereb. org.

The intensive 220-hour training program would offer free classes for 50 students over the next three years. Patricia Crosby, executive director of the employment board, said she had nothing official to announce but remains optimistic about being able to start the program this fall.

For 14 weeks, a group of about 12 adults would train four nights a week at Franklin County Technical School and Greenfield Community College — where they would be introduced to hands-on machine shop training, as well as critical thinking and general education courses.

With guidance from the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board, the program graduates would then be able to find work at one of about 30 local manufacturing companies. The grant would pay for four cycles of the program.

The $240,000 grant, along with $78,000 in matching funds from all of the contributing parties, would pay for curriculum development, teachers, a career mentor and costs to keep the schools open after hours.

Valley Steel Stamp and Bete Fog Nozzle, also of Greenfield, are helping to draft the technical curriculum, and GCC will provide critical thinking and the general education courses.

And the Tech School, with its new equipment, would provide the instructional machine shop setting.

You can reach Chris Shores at:cshores@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264