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Robotics center's 1st step is giant leap for Alabama
[November 11, 2010]

Robotics center's 1st step is giant leap for Alabama

Nov 11, 2010 (The News Courier - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- If Alabama is going to continue to lead the nation in workforce development and training it needs a facility to match it.

That's what Gov. Bob Riley told the hundreds of people who gathered Wednesday morning across from Calhoun Community College for the grand opening of the first phase of the Robotics Maintenance Training Center.

The $17.5 million facility will be one of three training facilities planned for the $73 million Alabama Robotics Technology Park, a park Riley envisioned in 2006 after speaking with industries statewide. The governor had asked industry leaders what the state could do for them. From there, the Robotics Training Park was born.

"One of the best things about being Alabama's governor is being able to turn a concept into a reality," Riley told the crowd gathered Wednesday to see the ultra-modern, steel and glass first phase building and its robots. The 52,000-square-foot first phase will house an industry-training program, where technicians will be trained to work on robotic machinery, according to the event's program.

When all three phases are done, workers and students will be able to train at the Center to work on any robot anywhere in the world. The park will also help public and private groups develop new robots and automation that will help them improve and expand.

"The park will make Alabama the world leader in robotics and automation," said Jason Putman, Robotics Technology Park executive board chairman.

The park will train robotics students from Calhoun and other colleges.

"World-class training starts at the high school level and goes through the community college and to the four-year programs," Riley said.

With the Robotics Technology Park, the governor said, "We can offer thing very few states can ... as long as we continue to do that -- continue to demand that level of excellence -- you will never have to worry about the economic future of the state of Alabama." Riley said the park will allow for "something that has never been done before ... to offer job-specific, geographic-specific and company-specific training ... to any child in the state of Alabama." The second phase of the park, which is already under way will be called the Advanced Technology Research and Development Center. It will feature a test facility for companies in the robotics manufacturing industry, according to the event's program.

The third phase of the park, for which funding awaits, will be the Integration and Entrepreneurial Center. It will be a collaborative consolidation of technology involving higher education and industry, according to the program.

Economic development tool Freida Hill, Alabama Community College Systems chancellor, told the gathering the robotics park will be a tool for community colleges throughout the state.

"This facility will be a great addition to the tools that we have in our bag at the Alabama Community College System," Hill said. "This system is a provider of training for this state. We don't take that responsibility lightly. We embrace it -- wholeheartedly. If you have heard me talk before, you know I have said that economic turnaround is on the shoulders of the two-year community college, and I believe that. This institution is a great example of what we can do." The tie that binds Seth Hammett, the Democratic speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, told the crowd he's had numerous opportunities over the past 10 years to travel with the Republican governor. In that time, the two have not always agreed, he said. Though, they have agreed on one point.

"We've always seen a link between workforce development and economic development," Hammett said.

He said that during his travels to Japan and elsewhere, he has visited offices and factories and been told that Alabama has the best training in the world due, in part, to the Alabama Industrial Development Training program or AIDT.

"We have the reputation of having the best workers and the best training program in the world ... and our future looks bright," Hammett said.

Riley, Putman, Hill and Hammett were four of the seven leaders who spoke at Wednesday's grand opening. Others included, AIDT Executive Director Ed Castile, Calhoun Community College President Marilyn Beck and District 8 Representative of the Alabama Board of Education Mary Jane Caylor.

Their speeches were followed by tours of the facility hosted by Calhoun and AIDT employees and Calhoun's Warhawks ambassadors. The tours allowed visitors to see the building as well as various robots at work.

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