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UAHT’s Texarkana campus holds Grand Opening of its Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center

The ribbon cutting for the new Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center on the UAHT’s Texarkana campus took place Thursday afternoon in that building’s welding lab

Yesterday afternoon about 150 people gathered in UAHT’s new 14,754-square-foot Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center in Texarkana to hear speakers and either take part in or witness the ribbon-cutting.

The building has already been used for classes since January but had not yet gotten a ceremony to mark its opening until Thursday afternoon. Governor Sarah Huckabee was expected to give a dedicatory speech, but heavy rain caused the cancellation of her appearance. Still, a letter from her was read to the audience by University of Arkansas System President Donald R. Bobbitt.

Christine Holt, Chancellor of UAHT, began the dedication speeches by acknowledging the rainy day. “Although I know you know, it’s raining outside. But it’s lovely, beautiful, wonderful and sunny inside, just from seeing all of you and knowing that you are great supporters of the University of Arkansas for Texarkana,” she said.

She observed that UAHT had a 58-year history of growth, starting out in 1965 as a vocational school, by 1991 becoming a technical college, by 1995 joining the University of Arkansas System, by 2012 starting the Texarkana campus which is now at 22 acres and has three buildings.

Holt told the audience the new building was currently being used for many purposes including classrooms for the Arkansas High Collegiate Academy, a secondary and technical career center, welding and industrial maintenance. The Collegiate Academy is a program whereby Arkansas students can start their sophomore years taking courses at UAHT for free, eventually building enough hours for an associates degree by the time they graduate.

Holt also said the facility would also be used to train workers according to the needs of specific employers. “We provide customized training for our employer partners to meet their needs. And over the last several years, we’ve been able to partner with over 100 employees or employers, and we’ve been able to work with 4,500 employees to refine their skills.”  

It will also be used, Holt said, for community education classes. “What that will mean is enrichment, leisure and recreational opportunities. And we’ll be able to offer everything from salsa, dancing, salsa, cooking classes, and everything.”

The next speaker, UA System President Bobbitt, also talked up the Collegiate Academy program, emphasizing the cost reductions possible in pursuing an education through the program: “You can start here as I mentioned, get your associate’s degree transfer to a four-year school or transfer to the University of Arkansas because of a policy at the University of Arkansas. You pay Hope-Texarkana tuition in Fayetteville. And so you can do your degree in half the time, really at a fraction of the cost of a traditional four-year degree. It really is a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for people in this area.”

Bobbit also delivered the news that Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders would not be coming. But he read a letter from Sanders written for the occasion. In it Sanders apologizes that “the weather forecast prevented me from being with you today” and called UAHT’s Farmer’s Bank & Trust Workforce Center a needed facility for the filling of welding and other industrial jobs that have remained unfilled in Arkansas, hamstringing the state economy.

The letter also touts a section of the LEARNS Act recently signed by Governor Sanders. “Great technical education was also at the centerpiece of my Arkansas LEARNS education bill, which I signed into law last week. That legislation includes a new program called Career Ready diplomas aimed directly at high school students. As part of that program, local businesses will be able to go straight into nearby high schools to craft dual degree programs and focus on the skills our economy needs right now.”

The next speakers were Chris Gosnell, the Chief Executive Officer of Farmers Bank & Trust, who said the company was gratified to work with UAHT and looked forward to the use of the building to train Farmers Bank & Trust employees. “Any occasion when we can partner with a school to train our own employees or train future employees is something that we really want to be a part of.”

Brad Stringer, Manufacturing Director of Ledwell, which manufactures truck trailers and truck bodies in Texarkana, Texas, said the skills gap in the United States was expected to lead to a 2.1 million unfilled jobs gap by 2030, which could cost the economy a trillion dollars by that year. Meanwhile, for welders, there would be about 400,000 open jobs by 2024, according to the American Welding Society. “So that means that this building is here to help us break that trend,” Stringer said.

Holt’s closing remarks included testimonials from students who said they had sought UAHT educations in climate control repair and in practical nursing to lift them and their families from poverty and, thanks to UAHT’s caring teachers.

As donors and UAHT staffers assembled at the front for the ribbon cutting and photography, a circular metal plaque made by UAHT welding instructor Bob McFarland was brought in. It’s not yet known where in the building it will be displayed.

McFarland said the building had 20 booths with welding machines. “All of them have a multifunction processing so I can also do aluminum,” he said, adding that courses in forklift certification, a very in-demand credential, would also take place there.

Hope’s Steve Lance, of Lance and Associates Real Estate, is a member of UAHT’s Foundation Board and was in attendance at the Grand Opening. “I’ve told other people it was well designed. There was a lot of thought put into it. So it should be useful for a long time to help a lot of people.”

A reception was held afterward, which was catered by Julie’s Deli of Texarakana, Texas.

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