Michigan approves $50M to help community colleges buy equipment for skilled trades programs

A state board set aside $50 million on Tuesday to help community colleges buy equipment to train future welders, technicians and others, a move aimed at closing what Gov. Rick Snyder called a widening problem: companies with jobs but not enough qualified applicants.

The Michigan Strategic Fund Board will send the money — to be financed with bonds — to some of the state's 28 community colleges. To receive up to $4.8 million, a college must commit to spending 25 percent toward the cost of new equipment, which can include installation and instructor training.

Snyder told The Associated Press that community colleges often "have some good programs, but their equipment tends to be somewhat outdated."

The governor wants the schools to work with local K-12 districts or businesses and show that if the state provides a financial boost, it will lead to more students being trained for in-demand jobs. Snyder mentioned robotics, machining and welding tools as the kinds of equipment that could be upgraded through the program.

The Snyder administration says that by 2020, middle-skills and skilled-trades occupations will comprise the state's largest employment growth sector. The jobs require education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said a requirement that colleges work closely with their region's business community to demonstrate employers' demand for degree programs for which they need better equipment will provide "an improved perspective of the curriculum that best serves the interests of our students, who expect to find a job after their education."

The Strategic Fund board will issue a request for proposals this month. Awards will be announced in February.

Also Tuesday, the board approved about $10.6 million in grants to five companies — four auto-related — that plan to invest more than $200 million and add about 1,300 jobs, mostly in the Ann Arbor area.

Autosystems America wants to build a new plant and consolidate its operations into one location in Plymouth Township east of Ann Arbor; Magna Exteriors and Interiors USA plans a new facility in Windsor Township near Lansing; Mobis North America wants to buy a bigger plant in Plymouth Township; Shiloh Industries plans a new sales and technical center in Plymouth Township; and Thomson Reuters Tax & Accounting wants to expand operations in Pittsfield Township near Ann Arbor.


Follow David Eggert on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00