Commentary: SLCC’s Westpointe is a solid investment in the Salt Lake Valley’s future

The expansion means SLCC will continue to be the primary post-secondary provider of best-in-class workforce education in Salt Lake County.

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Dr. Deneece G. Huftalin, President of Salt Lake Community College, speaks during the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Westpointe Career and Technical Education Center, Wednesday, June 1, 2016.

This fall the Salt Lake Valley will experience a milestone in technical education when Salt Lake Community College opens its $43 million Westpointe Workforce Training and Education Center.

Located near the Salt Lake City International Airport, the 121,000-square-foot building will provide space for collaboration with industry partners in multiple fields integral to the Wasatch Front’s long-term economic vitality. The expansion means SLCC will continue to be the primary post-secondary provider of best-in-class workforce education in Salt Lake County.

This new center will become a one-of-a-kind, one-stop hub for those interested in key technical careers in the Salt Lake Valley. It will be a place where traditional students acquire skills to begin their careers, where incumbent workers enhance or improve their skills to increase their value to their employers, and where transitioning and underemployed workers can gain rapid training in a field that will allow them to successfully re-enter the workforce quickly. Related disciplines like advanced manufacturing, machining, composites technology and welding are intentionally clustered within the facility to foster collaboration and replicate an actual work environment. The center is intended to support current and future training needs in a flexible, high-quality space that will benefit business, industry and the surrounding community for decades.

The facility’s strategic location in Salt Lake City’s industrial Northwest Quadrant and near industry leaders like Boeing, L3 Communications and Cummins, positions it to feed demand for skilled workers as technologies evolve. Those businesses will continue to rely on SLCC’s Westpointe to be nimble and to respond to changing industry needs.

The 2016 Utah Legislature invested in Westpointe, and SLCC is grateful for the members’ vision and their responsiveness to the need for this high-tech training environment. Local industry and nonprofit leaders, including the Kenworth Sales Company and The Katherine W. Dumke and Ezekiel R. Dumke, Jr. Foundation, have stepped forward to add capital to this project. They are joined by the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, Scott Machinery/Intermountain Bobcat, the American Welding Society, and the Richard K. and Shirley S. Hemingway Foundation, among others. Private investment for equipment and scholarships helps SLCC produce skilled workers who are ready to contribute from day one with a new employer. We are deeply grateful to the local leaders who have quickly identified Westpointe’s potential and have offered their support.

Highlighted by Gov. Gary Herbert’s declaration of 2018 as the Year of Technical Education, business and community leaders continue to focus on how workforce training can fill a pipeline of educated talent for Utah industry while giving its people meaningful career opportunities that provide a living wage. Local leaders are actively pursuing ways in which traditionally underserved Utahns may realize the dignity of work through training, and the College continues to partner with local school districts to offer technical training as a viable career option. These efforts have resulted in measurable contributions to the economic stability and vibrancy of the Utah economy.

Collaboration continues to be the onramp for innovation, and the Westpointe Workforce Training & Education Center illustrates the power of working together for timely and impactful results. The joint investment by the State, local industry and community partners will begin to be realized when Westpointe’s full operations commence in the fall. As students see the return on their investment of time and tuition with career options in high-growth Utah industries, enhanced by this well-equipped and highly functional learning environment, our economy flourishes. And that’s how we keep Utah’s economy working for everyone.

Rick Bouillon is associate vice president of Salt Lake Community College, where he leads the Workforce and Economic Development Division. Bouillon’s 30 years of higher education experience, 19 at SLCC, inform his efforts as a member of the board of directors of the National Council for Workforce Education and his post on the State’s Refugee Services Board of Advisors.