Editor’s note: Following is one of several stories in today’s edition highlighting the progress the Fostoria community made in the past year, as well as the direction it is moving in for 2014. More CommunityUpdate stories can be found in the B and C section of today’s paper.
By BRIAN BOHNERT
Progress on the Fostoria Learning Center has been slow moving recently, but that’s not stopping those involved from boasting about the proposed facility’s potential impact.
D. Ford Mennel, president of The Mennel Milling Co. and Fostoria Economic Development Corporation board member, said the board is working to develop relationships with regional educational institutions to provide them space in the city to offer programs and classes for secondary education and vocational training for Fostorians.
Local school systems like St. Wendelin Catholic School, Fostoria City Schools, and even regional colleges will serve as integral partners with FEDC.
“Our objective is for them to offer classes in Fostoria, for students that live in Fostoria, to prepare them for jobs in Fostoria,” Mennel said in a written statement.
Although still in the developmental stages of the facility, he said the goal is to partner with institutions that offer training in welding and a multidisciplinary field of engineering called mechatronics, as well as certificate programs for students to obtain positions as an STNA or medical assistant.
“Having this training will benefit the community locally because we will have individuals better trained to fill the needs of the businesses in town,” he said in the statement. “There is a major void in skilled trades in the region. There is a shortage of diesel mechanics, electricians, truck drivers, welders, and CNC operators in this community. There are open jobs available without willing, qualified, and reliable labor to fill them.”
Mennel said filling this gap would allow area businesses to employ skilled laborers from within the Fostoria community, instead of hiring outside city limits.
The facility was initially set to offer commercial driver’s license courses through a partnership with Northwest State Community College, but Mennel said the project is on hold.
“We will not likely be partnering with Northwest State once, or if, we move forward with it,” he said in the statement. “Since the time we announced this partnership, Terra (State Community College) and Owens (Community College) have instituted CDL programs.”
Original plans for the center also included an iSTAR database management training course, which will qualify participants to perform many jobs in the information technology field.
While the main focus of FEDC’s efforts has been providing laborers to businesses already in town, Steve Pritts, former Fostoria City Schools superintendent who has been involved with the project, said the “representation of education” in Fostoria could draw more industry back.
“If you have a workforce trained to do those jobs, many times, companies will recognize that and move their business to the town,” Pritts said.
In addition to providing skilled labor and vocational training, the learning center could also offer post-high school remediation courses; family preparation courses for college such as financial aid workshops; and workforce development for entry-level positions and courses to enhance skill sets of existing employees.
“With entry-level skill sets, focusing on some of the basics is key,” said Elena Caballero, human resources manager for NSI Crankshaft. “Math, for one, I think would be important. Or, even just the basics of study skills like: ‘how do you learn?'”
With a local workforce still recovering from the blow of losing Bendix Corporation, Ex-Cell-O and Atlas Crankshaft, among others, FilmTec, Inc. Owner Jo Hollingsworth said the need for well-educated, specially-trained workers is a must as the local industry continues to change.
“I think it is important to raise the educational level in the community because that’s where the jobs are,” Hollingsworth said. “It used to be that a willing mind and a strong back got you where you want to go, but those jobs left long ago.”
Much of the recent discussion surrounding the planning and development of the center, Pritts said, has revolved around location scouting and funding for the facility.
In a feasibility study finished early last year, it was said the location “should not be, or look like, a ‘school.’ It should be capable of providing a home for civic activity as well as providing an off-site venue for Fostoria’s business community needs.”
“Finally, the place should be fun: a coffee shop, a library, play spaces for younger children and common rooms permitting residents to associate learning with living, to encourage them to embark on a path of lifelong learning, with members of their families and with their friends and neighbors,” the study stated, recommending a 30,000 square-foot facility that would serve as a hub in the community.
FEDC’s tentative home for the learning center is the former Fostoria Industries at 1200 N. Main St. The former Kroger property on Perry Street was also being considered as a potential location; however, Pritts said talks on location are ongoing.