GOSHEN — The Elkhart County Council approved a nearly $1.5 million contribution toward an advanced manufacturing lab at Ivy Tech.

The council voted Saturday to appropriate $1.477 million in tax increment finance district funds for an advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics lab on the campus of Ivy Tech Community College at 22531 C.R. 18, Goshen. Council’s approval follows votes by the Elkhart County Redevelopment Commission and the County Commissioners.

The total cost of the new building is $3.686 million, a third of which is covered by the college and another third is covered by grant money.

The 10,400-square-foot building will host classes beginning in 2021. It will offer the chance for people to earn certificate and associate-degree credentials in a variety of industrial technology programs.

David Balkin, new chancellor of the South Bend-Elkhart campus, told council Ivy Tech’s goal is to make Elkhart County a focal point that other companies will want to come to. Through Ivy Tech’s partnerships with area businesses and schools, he said, the lab is an opportunity to fuse expertise and education.

“The value of our advanced manufacturing, automation and robotics lab is to enhance the workforce capabilities,” he said. “Our goal is to be able to use this facility to teach everything from computer-aided design to mechatronics, to robotics to automation.”

It’s training that people currently need to travel outside the region to find, according to Kyle Hannon, executive director of Ivy Tech in Elkhart County.

Chris Stager, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County, said organizers are crafting a memorandum of understanding that would allow companies to use the facility. 

“They’re very gracious in their allowing additional organizations to come in and train,” he said. “So I think you need to think of this outside of the pure curriculum of what Ivy Tech may offer, and understand there’ll be other organizations in there as well, providing additional training.”

Council members approved the $1.477 million after remarking on how the facility would benefit economic development in the region. 

Councilwoman Tina Wenger said the lab meets a unique need in Elkhart County. It’s money she’d be more reluctant to spend if Elkhart had a predominantly service-sector workforce, she said.

“We are a manufacturing county. 70,000 of our employees are in the manufacturing industry. It’s high time for us to offer skilled training to our workers, and this is a project that’s long overdue,” she said. “The future belongs to skilled workers and we need to train them and educate them, and therefore we need to offer a chance for them to go to training schools to get the skills that they need.”

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