Economic development leaders believe a new technology training center for area employers can be open by 2015, even though the community lost out on a federal grant for the facility.
Greg Williams, president and CEO of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that a contract is expected to be signed in the next two weeks by the Economic Development Corporation of Lawrence & Douglas County to purchase the Hiper Technology building at 2920 Haskell Ave. in southeast Lawrence.
"EDC will provide a significant cash injection into the project, and it also has a consortium of local banks that will loan money on the project," Williams told members of the city and county's Joint Economic Development Council, an advisory board that is separate from the EDC.
The adult technology center will be one part of a larger training complex slated for the approximately 20 acres that the Hiper building sits upon. The site also will include a 30,000-square-foot building that will house technical education classes for the Lawrence school district. Board members agreed to move forward with building on the donated piece of property last month.
A $92.5 million bond issue approved by voters in April included money to build the approximately $6.5 million center, which will be owned by the school district. The school district plans to break ground on the center in the spring and have it open by the fall of 2015.
As for the adult technical education center, economic development leaders have hoped a federal grant would pay for part of its costs. But as previously reported, a federal grant that Neosho County Community College had sought on behalf of the technical center was rejected earlier this year. Williams on Wednesday said a new application will be submitted this spring, and that the technical training center would move forward regardless.
"The grant is important in that it can help us with some renovation and equipment needs, but we will move forward with or without the grant," Williams said. "We have to. This is an absolute must for the future of our economic development efforts."
Williams said as the building's purchase is finalized, his office has begun to recruit members to serve on a board of directors that would govern the new training center.
Williams said he expects the new group to have representation from the Lawrence school district and from the Lawrence City Commission and the Douglas County Commission. But he said it is likely that a majority of the voting positions on the board will be appointed by the Economic Development Corporation because it is expected to serve as the owner of the building in the near term.
The EDC — formerly known as Douglas County Development Inc. — is a private, not-for-profit corporation that has been best known for managing the property and administrative affairs of the East Hills Business Park.
The governing board is expected to oversee the awarding of contracts to area community colleges that will vie to provide classes at the center. The governing board won't oversee the operations of the school district's center.
Williams said his office is beginning to have conversations with area employers about the specific types of technical training that is most needed in the region. The adult center is expected to have about 60,000 square feet of space that can accommodate multiple programs. He said part of the center will be designated as "flex space" that can be used to provide very specific training programs geared towards particular industries.
"I know folks at Hallmark and Del Monte have said they have needs today," Williams said. "Those two plants have people operating $10 million pieces of equipment, and they need to be recertified from time to time. We want to be able to do that here."