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story.lead_photo.caption The nearly completed AMTC can be seen at SouthArk's east campus. Contributed photo.

South Arkansas Community College’s new Charles A. Hays Advanced Manufacturing Training Center (AMTC) will open June 20 with Gov. Asa Hutchinson acting as keynote speaker.

In designing the AMTC, SouthArk officials collaborated with local industry leaders to figure out what would most benefit students looking to break into the manufacturing industries. Funding for construction of the facility came from local businesses, individuals, public grants and other donations.

The TRUST program at the new AMTC will allow students to train in loading and unloading tanker trucks in a rail yard setting. Contributed photo.

Construction started in April 2017 and has had several delays throughout the process. Electrical issues pushed the completion date to June 18, just two days before the grand opening. However, the facility is expected to be occupied by the time of the grand opening and some classes are expected to take place there during the summer.

The AMTC has an open floor plan, with sections for classroom learning and practical laboratories. In 2013, with help from the city, SouthArk purchased a Hands-on-Training (HOT) Unit; in 2015, they purchased a Tanker Railroad Unloading/Loading Safety Training (TRUST) program. Both will be housed at the AMTC, in an open-air class setting on the north side of the building.

In March, the El Dorado Works Board approved a funding request for equipment for the center. The equipment inside the building will establish E&I (electrical and instrumentation) and mechanical non-credit programs and enhance the industrial technology credit program. The AMTC will also be home to SouthArk’s process technology and advanced welding credit programs and several non-credit industrial training programs.

Some of the new classes offered will cover topics like hydraulic and pneumatic systems maintenance, electrical troubleshooting and reading technical diagrams.

SouthArk hosted an industry tour in March, where local industry leaders and public school teachers met to take a tour of the Conifex sawmill and El Dorado Paper Bag plant before a roundtable discussion about the needs of the local workforce.

“Manufacturing leaders have helped steer decisions every step of the way,” said Heath Waldrop, SouthArk marketing and communications coordinator. “Ultimately, the idea is to prepare workers for that sector, so we want to provide what those industries need.”

At Conifex, the tour group was able to see how much technology has changed heavy industry in recent years. The mill was missing the traditional smokestacks outside and assembly lines on the floor. Plant manager Robbie Hanry said the same controllers that are on the international space station are used at the mill.

At El Dorado Paper Bag, production looked more typical. While Hanry said they had trouble finding production workers, El Dorado Paper Bag general manager Bob Edwards said they needed millwrights.

At the roundtable, officials discussed ways to prepare high school students for entering the workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 40 percent of students who graduated in 2017 were participating in the workforce. Industry representatives at the meeting said that with vocational or technical training for the jobs they will be doing, people can start out at a higher position and pay rate.

“A strong and trained workforce will help the local and state’s economy grow and recruit new businesses,” SouthArk president Barbara Jones said at the AMTC groundbreaking ceremony in March 2017.

Caitlan Butler can be reached at 870-862-6611 or

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