SARANAC LAKE - U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday he's pushing for grant funding to create a new academic program at North Country Community College that would train workers for a rapidly growing industry.
NCCC is one of 30 State University of New York community colleges that have teamed up to apply for $15 million from the U.S. Department of Labor's Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. The college is seeking up to $1.2 million to train people in mechatronics, a multi-disciplinary field that incorporates engineering, mechanics and electronics.
Speaking to a crowd of local politicians and business leaders at the North Elba Town House on River Street, Schumer said the program could help fill what he called the "skills gap."
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer shakes hands with North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi inside the North Elba Town House on Friday, Aug. 15.
(News photo — Chris Knight)
"There are jobs available from good companies here in the North Country," Schumer said. "There are people looking for work here in the North Country, but the people who are unemployed or looking for work can't fill these jobs because they don't have the skills. What we're proposing to do is make our community colleges the link between the jobs that now go unfulfilled and the people looking for jobs by providing the skills that are needed."
The field of mechatronics is booming across New York, Schumer said. Citing figures from SUNY, he said mechatronics is expected to create more than 13,000 jobs in New York, including 800 in the North Country, between 2010 and 2020.
"We think this grant could be a game changer for Essex County and the North Country," Schumer said. "With this plan, we would train 1,200 eligible New York workers every two years. A good portion of those would be educated at NCCC."
Maureen Sayles, NCCC's assistant dean for grants and funded programs, said this would be a new field for the college.
"We have many programs geared toward the needs of our broader Adirondack region," she said, "but we have not had any, what I would call, technical programs before, and we have heard from our businesses in our region that that would be a great opportunity, and from the BOCES programs looking for an opportunity for their students to extend their education to post-secondary."
The college would create a one-year certificate program geared toward facilities maintenance, Sayles said. She said the college is partnering with One-Stop Career Centers in Malone and Elizabethtown to find potential students for the program. It hasn't been determined which college campus - Malone, Ticonderoga or Saranac Lake - would offer classes in the program. Making it available online is also a possibility, Sayles said.
Sayles said the grant money would be used to purchase equipment and hire a faculty member to guide the program.
"We've asked for $1.2 million because this is a new field for us, but we would be very happy to receive between $450,000 to $500,000," she said.
If the funding is awarded, North Country would also partner with local employers that want to hire workers in the field of mechatronics, including Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake, the Agri-Mark cheese plant in Chateaugay and International Paper in Ticonderoga. Representatives of all three were on hand for Schumer's press conference.
Trudeau Institute President, CEO and Director Ronald Goldfarb said the institute is developing immuno-engineering strategies that it can use to make better vaccines and therapies for a range of infectious diseases. It will need new people with the right skills to do that work, he said.
"We hope to expand," Goldfarb said. "We hope to have new companies spinning out. The base of having folks who will be able to deal with the engineering aspects as well as the research technician aspects will be extremely important, so we appreciate the support for this program."
Robert Wellington, a senior vice president at Agri-Mark, said the dairy farm cooperative is planning to make a sizable investment in its Chateaugay plant, which makes Cabot and McCadam brand cheeses. He said skilled workers are needed to run the automated equipment at its facility. They're also needed for the region's growing dairy farm industry, Wellington added, noting that many large farms are increasingly turning to robotics to help run their operations.
"We need the technical expertise to do all these things and this is a great step in that direction," Wellington said.
SUNY was awarded funding through the TAACCCT program in 2012 but NCCC wasn't included in that application.
"This year you are," Schumer said. "I will be pushing hard for this grant."
Schumer said he has already called Labor Secretary Tom Perez three times to advocate for SUNY's application. The funding will be announced sometime this fall.