A program in West Plains, designed to make sure regional employers have the trained employees they need and to help area residents earn a living wage, continues to evolve.
GOCAT, or the Greater Ozarks Center for Advanced Technology, a program of Missouri State University-West Plains, the South Central Career Center and the City of West Plains, was started five years ago.
According to Sheila Barton, GOCAT’s director of workforce development, manufacturers in the region, including DRS Technologies, Armstrong Flooring, Regal and Caterpillar, have been their driving force.
"They need certain types of skills within their industries," she said. "DRS, for example, they are planning a large expansion over the next year. They'll be hiring over 100, so there's all different areas. It's industrial maintenance, it's manufacturing technicians, it's fabrication, it's welding. It's just a variety of trades that will be a part of this."
GOCAT was created before Robertshaw, which employed around 400 people, left the area. After the layoffs, GOCAT moved into its own 16,000-square-foot building and started expanding the programs it offers.
GOCAT trains approximately 30 individuals a year, according to Barton. Degrees and certificates offered include An Associate of Applied Science in Technology with options in Advanced Manufacturing Technology, Alternative Energy and Technology Management. Those are also offered as stand-alone certificate programs. There are also customized training opportunities available.
Barton said they’ve ventured out into apprenticeship programs with their industry partners and will continue to do that.
GOCAT isn’t self-sufficient yet. It relies on grants to keep going. And a flood in 2017 was a setback for the program. The flood left three feet of water in the building, destroying furniture and equipment, and Barton said they had to start over.
"We came back strong," she said. "We've had classes off and on in here since late 2017, and, so, we're finally at that point that we're getting students into the program."
GOCAT instructor, Larry Noller, said they had to rebuild much of the equipment after floodwaters inundated the building.
But Barton and others at GOCAT are excited about the future.
An Industrial Maintenance Program is going to start in the near future, and Noller says individuals who go through that program will be highly employable.
"Here's the thing that's neat about it is that every place in the United States has an industrial maintenance person--every nursing home, every hospital, every police department. Your building probably has one, " he said, "because they're the guys that fix the plumbing, the electricity and the air conditioner when it goes out. So, you can go anywhere in the world, literally in the world, and get a job."
GOCAT will also offer a new program soon in industrial spray painting.
While Barton said they probably lose some of their students to other cities, many of those who have gone through their programs are working locally.
"At companies like DRS, Regal Beloit, Arlee Home Fashions that's right here close to us, Caterpillar, L&R Industries in Willow Springs," said Barton.
And she hopes GOCAT’s presence in West Plains will help bring new employers to the area.
"Being able to show that we have a trained workforce in our area is inevitably going to bring business here," said Barton.
Editor's note: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that GOCAT had recently been awarded a significant grant from the Delta Regional Authority. GOCAT officials say they have applied for a grant from the Delta Regional Authority but do not yet know whether the center will be awarded the grant. We sincerely regret this error.