Iowa Governor Terry Branstad cut the ribbon for NICC’s Wilder Business Center grand opening Thursday afternoon in Calmar. From left are NICC Board of Trustees President Ken Reimer, Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Board member Kathy Gunderson. (Decorah Newspapers photos by Sarah Strandberg)
The grand opening of the new Wilder Business Center at the Northeast Iowa Community College's Calmar campus was celebrated Thursday.
More than 250 people attended the event, including Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, representatives from state and federal legislative offices, Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) Board members, workforce agency officials and area community members.
The Wilder Business Center's completion concludes the last major construction project coordinated by NICC and funded in part through the $35 million bond levy, passed in December, 2007. The construction received support from a U.S. Department of Labor Economic Development Assistance Public Works grant for $1.1 million, $1 million in Iowa New Jobs Training Administrative dollars and $2 million from the bond levy.
The public toured the new conference facility Thursday, viewed program demonstrations and gathered information on many of the center's state-of-the-art technology services, which are available for local businesses and area community members.
"One thing we know is that the Branstad administration is about job creation and supporting community colleges," said Dr. Liang Chee Wee, NICC president, in his welcome address.
"All 15 community colleges in Iowa support that. Through job training and education, we put people to work. Twenty-seven businesses here are looking to hire over 1,000 people in Northeast Iowa. Our commitment is to provide relevant training and education so that businesses grow."
The new facility will make a great impact on the training programs the college can provide for area businesses and expands NICC educational services for the community. The Wilder Business Center builds upon successful enrollment trends in the college's continuing education and its workforce development division, according to Dr. Wendy Mihm-Herold, vice president of NICC Business and Community Solutions.
"Last year, over 30,000 individuals enrolled in more than 3,500 Business and Community Solutions training courses through the college, and over 570 businesses in Northeast Iowa are in direct contact with NICC for business and industry training," she said.
Mihm-Herold said NICC has provided training for 254 projects through the 260E New Jobs Training Program, helping to create nearly 14,000 new jobs producing a total value of $72 million in training dollars available since 1986, and administered 402 training projects for nearly 11,000 incumbent workers in Northeast Iowa.
Middle-skill and advanced-skill training programs through NICC can make the difference in area businesses' ability to increase productivity, hire new workers, improve the skills development of incumbent and future employees and could serve as a catalyst for business expansion, she said.
"With this facility and with all of these wonderful people and their support, we will make great things happen," said Mihm-Herold.
Following the ribbon cutting ceremony in the Wilder Business Center's remodeled auditorium, NICC officials led Gov. Branstad and Lt. Gov. Reynolds on a tour of the building to highlight its amenities and expanded capabilities.
"(This area) recently had 27 different industries that moved here, and that will create 1,000 jobs. That's exactly what we're looking for, especially for the training and education of our young people," Branstad commented while on the tour.
The governor also praised NICC for its decision to freeze tuition costs for students in the next academic year at a time when rising college tuition and fees has become the norm in Iowa and nationwide.
Built in 1975
NICC completed the remodeling and repurposing of the original Wilder Resource Center, built in 1975, into the new Wilder Business Center in January.
The new center offers more than 8,000 square feet of dedicated meeting space, an auditorium with seating for 200 and a computer lab with 17 computers and Internet access. Other features include wireless Internet access and laptop connections, built-in multimedia and sound systems and catering services for local employers and organizations. State-of-the-art technology will allow participants to meet through video and audio communication from multiple locations.
In addition to the governor's office and NICC board members, other officials and organizations that attended the event included: Linda Lucy, from U.S. Senator Tom Harkin's office; Merlin Bartz, from U.S. Representative Steve King's office; local and county officials; representatives from Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission; officials from the college's construction management and architectural firms, Larson Construction and Invision Architecture; Calmar-area school superintendents and Calmar Mayor Corey Meyer.