KINGSPORT — State and local officials gathered Thursday outside the Domtar paper mill for a groundbreaking ceremony to officially mark the start of construction of the new Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
Located on Clinchfield Street, the RCAM is a joint effort among Domtar, Eastman Chemical Co., Northeast State Technical Community College, and the city of Kingsport to help ensure that local industries have the skilled work force they need for the future.
Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Matt Kisber joined local officials for Thursday’s event.
“We all know that a company is only as strong as its employees, and steps like this one ensure that Eastman and Domtar and others have a well-stocked pool of trained workers from which to draw as they grow,” Kisber said.
Once completed next fall, the RCAM will offer associate of applied science degree programs in electrical/electromechanical technology, machine tool technology, welding/metal fabrication technology, and the chemical process operations technical certificate program.
Domtar donated the land for the facility, while Eastman is providing $2.7 million of a state grant for work force development to fund the RCAM’s construction. The RCAM will also receive $1.9 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to pay for building equipment and scholarships.
And Eastman is providing scholarship money as well.
Parker Smith, Eastman’s vice president and general manager of worldwide manufacturing support, said the RCAM will serve as a “premier advanced manufacturing training facility that will serve employers, job applicants, students and learners of all ages.”
“This investment will help us ensure stable employment in this community, sustain our position in a global economy, and train a work force for employment and for some challenging and rewarding careers,” Smith said.
The RCAM is part of Kingsport’s new Academic Village, which includes the Regional Center for Health Professions, the Kingsport Higher Education Center, and the Regional Center for Applied Technology.
Mayor Dennis Phillips said that of all the educational efforts now under way, he’s most excited about the RCAM.
“If you go from minimum wage through the RCAM program and you become a welder making $30 an hour versus $6 an hour, it’s the difference between just existing and being able to raise a family,” Phillips said. “This is a very important building to the citizens of Kingsport and the surrounding area.”
Plus, he said, it’s a “perfect example of what can happen when you all join together.”
The property has been deeded from Domtar to the Kingsport Economic Development Board. Once construction is completed, the land and building will be deeded from KEDB to the Northeast State Community College Foundation.
Katie Yates, vice president for institutional advancement at Northeast State, said the RCAM is “proof of our region’s commitment to economic development and a better quality of life for everyone.”
Domtar Manager Charlie Floyd said projects like the RCAM help level the playing field and keep American industries competitive in challenging times.
He suggested a slogan for the new facility. “I ask, ‘Are you looking for a rewarding career in manufacturing?’ The answer is easy to remember — You can at RCAM,” Floyd said.
Following the groundbreaking ceremony a reception was held honoring the first 70 recipients of the Eastman Chemical Co. Workforce Development Scholarship. The scholarship provided approximately $640 per recipient toward tuition and fees for the current fall semester. Classes are being held at the old Quebecor building until the new RCAM is completed next fall.