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Rowan-Cabarrus Community College unveils tenants, training partners at Advanced Technology Center

KANNAPOLIS — When Rowan-Cabarrus Community College cut the ribbon on its Advanced Technology Center in late 2019, the goal was to fill the roughly 53,000-square-foot building with students and corporate training partners.

During a ceremony at the ATC on Thursday morning, the college’s leaders announced they’ve accomplished that goal. The college revealed Okuma America Corporation and RJG will each locate training centers in an 8,000-square-foot lab on the ground floor of the state-of-the-art building.

“The vision of this Advanced Technology Center has always been to help businesses and citizens compete and succeed in a global market by being on the leading edge of technology and innovation,” said Craig Lamb, vice president of corporate and continuing education at RCCC. “The partnerships that RJG and Okuma announced today help us to bring that vision to reality by bringing world class opportunities to the doorstep of Rowan County and Cabarrus County employers.”

Okuma is an international company based in Charlotte that builds machine tools, controls and automation systems. The company is partnering with RCCC to establish the Okuma Machine Tool Academy, which will provide technical training to its customers, distributors and employees. The company will install several of its flagship products at the ATC, including a horizontal lathe and a vertical machining center.

“Anything that’s made, a machine tool is involved with,” said Okuma representative Tim Thiessen. “Whether it’s plastic, glass, the floor, any of that, there’s equipment that makes that or processes that and our machines are involved in every bit of that. They’re a lot of times called the ‘mother machine’ because they’re responsible for all of those things.”

Thiessen said the company considered several partners for the training program, but the community college and ATC rose to the top.

“There were four that we’d narrowed it down to. As I looked at these four, (RCCC) jumped off the page,” Thiessen said. “They addressed every bit of the criteria we had, but not only that, they explained what their vision was and what their strategy was behind each one of those.”

The center will be Okuma’s primary training point for employees and clients in North, Central and South America.

From left, RCCC President Carol Spalding, RCCC Board Chair Carl Short Jr., RJG representative Marty Key, Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant and Cabarrus County Commision Chair Steve Morris pose with an RJG sign. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

Headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan, RJG is an international company focusing on injection molding training, consulting and technology. Injection molding is used to create everything from toys to car parts. The company operates training centers in China, Singapore, France, Germany, the United Kingdom and, now, Kannapolis.

“We had an opportunity to move to an amazing location in a brand new building and really make it a showcase not only for us, but for RCCC,” said Shane Vandekerkhof, a representative from RJG who joined the ceremony via video call. “We couldn’t say no to the opportunity.”

Through its program at the Advanced Technology Center, RJG will provide its employees with the training necessary to obtain molding certifications. The company will rotate student employees into the facility on a two-week cycle. RJG will begin moving machinery into its new space as early as next week.

“We are anxious and ready to get rolling with this endeavor,” Vandekerkhof said.

During their time training at the ATC, students flown in from across the globe will stay at local hotels. In total, the two training programs are expected to contribute more than 5,000 hotel room nights per year. 

Craig Lamb, vice president of corporate and continuing education at RCCC, explains how Okuma and RJG plan on training employees and clients at the ATC. Ben Stansell/Salisbury Post

The injection of thousands of visitors per year will be a major boon to the burgeoning downtown Kannapolis.

“This downtown area is busy on the weekends. It’s not as busy on a Tuesday night, but our people will be there all the time,” Lamb said. “They’ll be in restaurants, shops. They’ll certainly go to the brewery. They’ll take in baseball games. It’s infusing that many more people who will be there on a regular basis.”

Both Okuma and RJG’s training centers are expected to be fully operational by October. The companies signed five-year agreements for the space and will have the ability to renew once the initial term has expired.

The ATC also houses labs and classrooms where community college students are taught skills in robotics, engineering and advanced technology. The center owes its existence in part to Cabarrus County voters, who in 2014 passed a bond referendum to support the creation of the facility.

RCCC President Carol Spalding drew parallels between the 2014 Cabarrus County referendum and the $45 million referendum passed by Rowan County voters in March 2020, which will provide the funding the community college needs to expand several of its programs and build a complex of new buildings. 

The project was put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will receive a $1 million cash infusion in the 2021-2022 fiscal year to pay for architect fees. Construction is unlikely to start until fiscal year 2022-23, when a property tax increase of approximately 3.5 cents per $100 in valuation will be required.

“I want to take this opportunity to recognize the leadership from Rowan County that’s here today,” Spalding said. “Soon, their foresight in passing the 2020 Rowan-Cabarrus $45 million bond issue will result in high technology, innovative strategic industry partnership and local workforce development along the I-85 corridor for decades to come.”

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