VOL. 133 | NO. 55 | Friday, March 16, 2018
New TCAT Campus to Address Workforce Development
By Michael Waddell
Planning for the new Tennessee College of Applied Technology satellite campus in Bartlett is moving forward, with a projected construction start date early next year.
The Greater Memphis Medical Device Council helped TCAT get the funding for the 48,000-square-foot campus, which will include a state-of-the-art medical device training center and the ability to train 350 to 400 students. Construction could get underway by next spring at the northwest corner of Appling Road and Brother Boulevard.
“Currently, this local medical device industry is the second-largest concentration of medical device companies in the orthopedic and spinal side in the United States,” GMMDC executive director Roy Smith said Tuesday, March 13, at a Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “It’s something that Memphis needs to wrap its arms around, give it some love, and help support and nurture it and make it grow.”
GMMDC’s and TCAT’s ultimate goal is for existing Memphis-area companies to keep their production here.
(From left) GMMDC executive director Roy Smith, Bartlett Area Chamber president John Threadgill and TCAT president Roland Rayner. (Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce)
Smith was a member of a task force that met for more than two years in Bartlett to discuss solutions for local workforce development.
“We need to home-grow talent,” said Bartlett Mayor A. Keith McDonald in a video presentation to the chamber group. “It’s an important step for us to do that, putting it back in the high schools, so we have to have an education process that will put our young people in an opportunity to learn those skills. A number of adults are underemployed, so they can come back to school, learn a technical skill like this, and be able to go to work where they start at $50,000 per year.”
A November 2015 GMMDC economic impact study showed the local medical device industry employed 6,500 people directly and another 10,000 people indirectly in greater Shelby County, with an overall economic impact of $2.7 billion. Medical devices are the largest export from the state of Tennessee, and the majority of those are made in Shelby County.
To fund the project, TCAT Memphis received $1 million from the city of Bartlett, $1 million from the Gene Haas Foundation, and nearly $15 million from the state of Tennessee.
“We’ve had some really positive things happen in the last few weeks,” said TCAT Memphis president Roland Rayner. “With the property that Bartlett purchased and donated to the state, we have that process complete and transferred to the state. We have the programming side of things complete, and we’re currently in the design phase with our architect, Chris Norton with braganza design/Group.”
The new facility will include training areas for heating, ventilation and air conditioning; automotive; industrial maintenance; information technology; heavy equipment; and other fields.
Braganza previously completed a renovation for TCAT on its main campus at 550 Alabama Ave. in Downtown Memphis and will work on an upcoming 20,000-square-foot addition later this year.
“We have to do something to enhance capacity,” Rayner said. “We’re trying to add space so we can add more people and train them. We’re going to increase our welding, automotive space, collision repair and diesel mechanic spaces.”
Founded in 1965, TCAT now offers 23 different programs in high-demand fields that need employees, including aviation and avionics training at its secondary campus on Tchulahoma Road near Memphis International Airport. In fact, FedEx has hired more than 1,300 TCAT graduates.
TCAT touts an 84 percent placement rate for students, with 96 percent passing licensure exams.
“We’re happy about our work” Rayner said. “We just need to do more of it and turn out more people. We typically graduate between 650 and 700 students per year, and in a county and city of the size that we serve, it’s not nearly enough. We’re just trying to do more with the dollars that we have.”
Smith estimates that the area needs close to 100 new machinists per year.
“And we’re far away from that right now,” he said. “A lot of people who are working at our local device companies now are baby boomers who are reaching retirement age. Replacing them is going to take a lot of effort.”
The ability for medical device companies to grow here in the Memphis market is dependent on the ability to get skilled labor, and that’s a challenge.
“There’s enough of a vibrant, dynamic presence in the industry that we’re still having people start up companies,” Smith said. “These entrepreneurs still want to get out and have their own business, so a lot of them are starting either small OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) or they’re contract manufacturing.”
He hopes to see the number of medical device companies in the Mid-South continue to grow in the years to come.
“We’ve got this jewel, but unless we work to make it better by addressing the biggest challenge – the workforce – it will go away,” Smith said.