Job-training site gives Texarkana campus room to grow

Welding student Sam Black practices his welding on Wednesday inside the welding lab at the new Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center on the Texarkana campus of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope-Texarkana.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Ryan Anderson)
Welding student Sam Black practices his welding on Wednesday inside the welding lab at the new Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center on the Texarkana campus of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope-Texarkana. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Ryan Anderson)

TEXARKANA -- When the Texarkana campus of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope-Texarkana opened in 2012, "we pretty quickly ran out of space," says Laura Clark, vice chancellor for academics.

For example, there wasn't available space in Texarkana to offer when industry needed a place to train workers, she said.

But the new Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center -- which began hosting students and individuals in January -- addresses those concerns, she said.

The building, which is nearly 15,000 square feet, is a modern employment training center for students in the region and will house both the Arkansas High School Collegiate Academy and the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center, according to Casey Curtis, the college's communications coordinator. It also will function as a community meeting space and a site for business and industry training.

The college will hold a ceremonial grand opening for the workforce center Thursday, and Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be on hand to formally dedicate the facility.

"I'm so excited to join the [UA Hope-Texarkana] team to celebrate the opening of their new workforce center," the governor said in a statement from the college. "Workforce development is the future of Arkansas and is at the core of Arkansas LEARNS, my plan to take our state's education system to the top. I know this new center will help Arkansas students graduate with the skills they need to find a high-paying job, right after graduation, right in their community."

UA Hope-Texarkana Chancellor Christine Holt said the new Farmers Bank & Trust Workforce Center on the Texarkana campus not only makes the campus a "premier" destination for "education and training," but it's a genuine "community facility."

"Part of our mission is helping our secondary school partners prepare our students for life after high school, [and] the secondary career center is one of the great programs we offer [to] help students get a head start in college or provide them with a credential to go to work in a quality career field straight out of high school," Holt said. The Arkansas High School Collegiate Academy "allows students the opportunity to earn their associate of arts degree while still in high school."

The Secondary Career and Technical Education Center can be an alluring path for certain students, Clark said. For those who aren't interested in a college degree, "at least you have a skill -- or skills" -- for the workforce.

With the collegiate academy, modeled on a successful Florida program, "we take them in 10th grade and immerse them in a collegiate environment," she said. "Starting in 11th grade, they are college students, and it's remarkable to see their" growth and success.

Like the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center, the collegiate academy is free to students and a "phenomenal opportunity," Holt said. "They really get a leg up on" their peers.

Mikki Curtis -- dean of secondary programs, which includes the Arkansas High Collegiate Academy and the Secondary Career and Technical Education Center -- believes the new workforce center can boost enrollment in both programs, which currently have roughly 130 total students.

"There wasn't anything like this when I was in high school, and it would've been so valuable to me," she said.


The welding program has a prominent place at the center, including three new courses that lead to a certificate of proficiency in welding.

"Manufacturing, of which welding is an important component, is an important industry in Arkansas," with nearly 12% of the state's workforce employed in manufacturing, and several thousand new manufacturing jobs were added in Arkansas last year, according to Jennifer Teresa, dean of Technical and Industrial Programs. "Welding is also a good-paying career field with a median annual wage of $22.60 per hour."

Welders are needed in the region, Holt hears regularly from employers, and "it's so critical for us as a college to be in-tune with workforce needs," she said.

"We have several industries in Texarkana that hire welders in all forms and fashions," Clark seconded. "It's nice walking around the [center's] welding area with brand-new" tools and technology.

The center's welding lab not only brings more welding opportunities to Texarkana, but it's more current than the one on the Hope campus, and the open floor plan benefits both students and instructors, said Bob McFarland, a welding instructor. "We have enough [space], that's for sure."

"[We] can [teach] many more students, we can have a full range of certifications, and the open floor plan lets me keep an eye on students a heckuva lot better," he added. "It's much better for demonstrations, too."

Welding students Brian Jackson and Sam Black both value the open space and possibilities for learning, they said.

This "is bigger than the spaces I've been in," said Jackson, who has some welding experience but has returned "to brush up" in hopes of improving his job prospects to better support his family. "I like it."

He's grateful to have this program in Texarkana, where he lives, rather than having to drive to and from Hope, he said. "Welding jobs are coming back [to Texarkana], and [this] is a lot closer for me."

When Black, 18, heard the workforce center was opening in Texarkana, where he lives, it helped tip the scales for him to enroll, he said. "I prefer to stay here" to learn a trade that will help "me provide for my family."

"This is a good spot to learn in," Black added. "It's nice here, and I like the way it's all open."


The workforce center is named after Farmers Bank & Trust, which is providing $100,000 (in $10,000 annual donations) for 10 years, a "very significant gift," Holt said. "This is the first time we've done a naming rights opportunity, and that money supports not only the building, but programs."

Farmers Bank & Trust already partners with UA Hope-Texarkana "on several levels" and will continue to do so, because the college is "such an economic driver" in the region, said Elizabeth Burns Anderson, executive director of the Farmers Bank Foundation and a senior vice president at the bank.

The center will provide opportunities for people from high school to older adults looking to add skills, she said. "We need to educate students so they can find jobs in Arkansas and [stay] in the state."

Workforce development is an area of emphasis for the state, including for colleges and universities, and offerings like this workforce center on a college campus send a powerful signal to companies that their region is committed to providing a skilled, educated workforce, she added. "Companies looking at the Texarkana region" will know that the college is nimble enough to provide classes and programs employees might need, which can "bring industry" to the area.

In addition to Farmers Bank & Trust, Texarkana-based Ledwell contributed $75,000, while local entrepreneur Curt Green contributed $25,000, Casey Curtis said. The workforce center cost roughly $3.85 million.

Ledwell, "an incredible partner in Texarkana -- we're blessed with good partners -- helped with the welding lab, and the welding piece of this has me so excited, because it's a skill set so many manufacturers, farms, etc., need," Cook said. It's "a base skill that can progress, and it opens up so many avenues for people."

Rob Sitterley, president and CEO at AR-TX Regional Economic Development Inc., said he and his organization are "excited" about the college's "continued investment in our community."

"Meaningful workforce training centers and growing our talent pipeline are just as important as having a site for a company to locate on," Sitterley said. "We are thrilled for the addition of this new center, which will provide opportunities for residents to upskill their careers today while meeting the growing talent needs of our employers tomorrow."


A third of UA Hope-Texarkana's students are from Miller County, so the students being served are hyperlocal for Texarkana, and they'll be critical pieces of the workforce, Holt said. "We want to serve this population to help them improve their lives and the lives of their families."

The new workforce center "falls right in line with our Work Ready Communities Initiative at the Texarkana Chamber," said Natalie Haywood, the Chamber's director of events and communications. "Our goal is to showcase the Texarkana region as a robust career-ready community, and having UAHT as a participating school contributes to accomplishing the goal."

Serving a "broad swath" of the community, from youth to older adults looking to re-skill, re-learn, or re-train, is a core tenet of community colleges, Holt said. "That is what a community college does best: offer the right mix of programs that lead to high wages and high employment."

The new center also will likely allow the college to offer some programs and training currently only available at the Hope campus, or "some things to suit needs that may be unique to Texarkana," Clark said. And, in a bit of synergy between the two campuses, a megawatt solar panel on the Hope campus will "offset the costs" of the new workforce center.

The new center is the latest example of "a small campus growing, and it's a win-win," Cook said. "We want to make sure our students have all these opportunities."

The new workforce center "demonstrates the focus by the campus and its regional supporters to remain committed to providing student opportunity in Texarkana that will enhance career opportunities for residents and support economic growth for the area, and -- as an added benefit -- area high school students will now have access to enhanced facilities that further support them while utilizing UAHT's innovative Arkansas High Collegiate Academy and state-of-the-art secondary career center," said Chris Thomason, who was UAHT's chancellor when this project launched and is now vice president for planning and development for the UA System. "The growth in UAHT's campus in Texarkana since its creation nearly a decade years ago is a great example of the power of partnership between the UA System, our campuses, and a supportive community."

Upcoming Events