RCC tech center a worthwhile investment

Nearly 20 years after Rogue Community College first opened its doors in Medford, the school is poised to create a High Technology Training Center in White City that will not only generate jobs for faculty and staff but train students in precisely the kind of high-tech skills local companies are looking for.

A $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce/Economic Development Administration will pay to renovate an existing building on Pacific Avenue, adjacent to RCC's Table Rock Campus. An additional grant of $250,000 from the Meyer Memorial Trust will purchase state-of-the-art equipment for the center.

The primary benefactors of this project, however, are the voters of Jackson and Josephine counties, who in 2016 approved a bond levy that will provide $20 million.

When complete, the center will offer training in manufacturing/engineering, welding and high technology, and will provide an "innovation maker space" where companies, entrepreneurs and students can do research and development. Equipment available will include a 3-D printer wand, and courses will prepare students for jobs in high-tech welding, robotics, 3-D printing and mechatronics, which blends mechanical manufacturing with electronics.

These fields pay well, and students will have the chance to work with local partner companies including Erickson, Boise Cascade, Timber Products and Naumes.

While higher education in general is struggling with budget issues — and RCC itself is planning to lay off staff and trim its budget — this new venture offers hope for the future, and for students who want cutting-edge training that will lead directly to good jobs. Not only that, but the tech center itself will create 77 new jobs, retain 59 and generate $2.15 million in private investment.

The 2016 bond measure was also an investment in the local economy, because companies looking for new locations will be more likely to come to a place with a workforce already trained in the skills those companies need.

RCC began in Josephine County, expanding into Jackson County after voters in 1996 approved adding the county to the community college district. That was a vote of confidence in the value of a two-year college offering basic academic courses and vocational and technical training rather than four-year academic degrees, and a recognition that Jackson County residents needed better access to what RCC offered.

RCC has grown steadily since. RCC consolidated its Jackson County presence with the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in downtown Medford, and later added the Table Rock campus. The High Technology Center is the latest addition.

Traditional four-year universities are important, but they're not for everyone. Just as vital is training in high-tech skills and knowledge that apply directly to today's workplaces. Jackson County voters should take credit for recognizing that.

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