Manufacturing Matters Now

At Blackhawk Technical College, “Manufacturing Matters Now’’ is more than a slogan describing the school’s community outreach program to the manufacturing sector of Rock and Green counties in order to salute the full operation of its new Advanced Manufacturing Training Center in Milton.

“Manufacturing Matters Now” reflects Blackhawk’s commitment to the industrial base of its district and the resurgence in its manufacturing strength after weathering the industrial havoc of the last decade.

“We are entering a new age of manufacturing,’’ said Elizabeth Horvath, Blackhawk’s Director of Advancement and Community Relations. “It is no longer the dirty, dingy factory of the past. It is the bright, technological workplace of the future.

“We want all of our district to join us and experience the future of manufacturing and manufacturing education at the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center.’’

This completion of the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center was the result of six years of hard work and visionary thinking on the part of Blackhawk, which saw a dramatic rise in enrollment starting in 2009 when Janesville’s General Motors factory and other manufacturers closed their plant doors during the industrial upheaval of the time.

As Blackhawk’s campuses teemed with students, many of whom were seeking new employable skills, the school’s administration recognized that manufacturing remained the core of the district’s economic life. Without it, the recovery of what was once and still remains one of Wisconsin’s strongest manufacturing bases would stumble and leave its best asset – its workforce – with few employment opportunities to turn to.

One of those administrators was Dr. Tom Eckert, who arrived at Blackhawk as the school’s president in 2010, just when the aftershocks of the 2008 downturn started to settle. He recognized the need for a central facility focusing on the changing world of manufacturing. Now, he will retire at the conclusion of the 2015-16 school year with the understanding that Blackhawk has introduced a critical educational component to the new wave of manufacturing in the BTC district.

“More than ever, there is the expectation for state-of-the-art technical training that meets workforce demands and provides citizens with family supporting careers,’’ Eckert wrote in a position paper proposing the center. “This facility will reflect the modern manufacturing environment of advanced systems and automation, providing students with a realistic picture of the region's current and future manufacturing environment.”

After several years of searching for a suitable building, Blackhawk settled on the former home of ANGI Energy Systems at 15 Plumb St., Milton, a site that featured the potential for 100,000 square feet of multi-purpose education. What followed was a $13.73 million renovation financed by private contributions, bonds and promissory noted approved by the BTC District Board and the Wisconsin Technical College System Board.

The first phase of construction was completed prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year when the AMTC housed Blackhawk’s Welding, Computer Numerical Control and Industrial Mechanic programs.

The second phase was completed in the summer of 2015, allowing the HVAC/Refrigeration, Manufacturing Information Technology. Computer Service Technician and Electro Mechanical Technology to begin classes for the 2015-16 school year.

The physical plant is impressive. It features 40 welding bays; six automated system labs including robotics, servo, hydraulics, PLC and process control; training labs for fabrication, CNC, industrial maintenance, mechanical design and HVAC/R; the manufacturing information technology classroom, which features the only state approved Manufacturing IT program in Wisconsin; the Capstone Lab where students from all disciplines work together on projects; and Capstone Cameras, where students watch projections of lab work through camera technology.

The AMTC’s potential is unlimited, not just for enrolled students but for the district’s economic fortunes. During the summer of 2015, it was the site of two important “boot camps’’ – one for welding and the other for Computer Numeric Control. BTC instructors in the Advanced Manufacturing programs now work in conjunction with technical education programs at Milton High School. It will be the site of several events in October – National Manufacturing Month – that will engage middle and high school students with the wonders of the new manufacturing wave.

“One of my personal goals will be to create strong relationships with area manufacturers and other employers, and develop new manufacturing and education partnerships that not only promote manufacturing but also assist in recruiting students into the manufacturing pipeline,’’ said Dr. Garry Krause, dean of Blackhawk’s Advanced Manufacturing programs.

As Blackhawk Technical College celebrates the grand opening of the facility this school year, there will be one constant reminder – Manufacturing Matters Now.

“The center will be and is an essential tool in economic development within the area,” Eckert said, “both in terms of existing companies thinking of expanding or companies considering locating in the region. We are proud to play a role in that.”