One of the largest universities in Dayton plans to invest millions of dollars to build a new space that will provide a pipeline of in-demand talent for manufacturers throughout west central Ohio.
The proposed workforce development center — a $7.6 million project for Wright State University — will serve as an expansion of the existing Business Enterprise Center at the university’s Lake Campus in Celina.
“The plan would be to extract the business center into a new space,” said Gretchen Rentz, coordinator for development and community relations at Lake Campus.
Features of the 18,000-square-foot facility will include flex space for labs and instructional areas. The center will also provide space for mechanical, electrical, pneumatics and hydraulics, robotics, automation systems, and 3D printing, among other specialties.
In addition, the building will offer a dedicated display area to showcase the local products and processes of the university’s sponsoring manufacturers, said Dan Krane, interim dean and chief administrative officer for Lake Campus.
“It could be very useful in terms of recruiting students to graduate and become employees of those companies,” Krane said. “That display space would be on a rotating basis. We would be changing it every month ... There would always be some buzz; something exciting to see.”
Roughly $1.5 million of the estimated capital investment will go toward new equipment, according to project documents.
Plans to build the center have been in the works since 2015, when Wright State invested $750,000 to buy 38 acres for speculative expansion of the Lake Campus. Part of that land will house the new space, which will be built near the existing agriculture and water quality facility, Rentz said.
“We have experienced significant growth at Lake Campus over the last 10 years,” she said. “With that growth came the need to build additional instructional space as well.”
The proposal follows a wave of recent projects at the satellite campus. Last year, the university welcomed a new $3 million agriculture and water quality to the campus, and in 2019, construction crews wrapped up a $2.8 million expansion of Andrews Hall.
The proposed workforce development center would also complement the two-story, 100,000-square-foot Tri Star Career Compact training facility across the street, Krane said.
“The local community joined forces to build a $25 million educational center there for juniors and seniors in high school,” he said. “That’s a substantial investment on the part of the community, and I see this center as a very natural extension of that investment.”
Fund-raising for the center is ongoing. So far, seven donors have pledged nearly $600,000 for the project, and the university plans to continue fielding support from state and federal funding programs.
To ensure the project moves forward, the university requested $3 million in financial support this year through the Dayton Regional Priority Development and Advocacy Committee (PDAC) — an arm of the Dayton Development Coalition that establishes regional priorities for funding public projects. If awarded, those funds will support construction and capital expenses.
Lake Campus also requested a $1.5 million investment from the university’s 2021-22 capital budget. If awarded, those funds would match more than $1.5 million already committed by the Lake Campus community and WSU.
“We have a couple different funding submissions,” Rentz said. “Hopefully by the beginning part of next year, we’ll have some consensus on where we’ve landed with those.”
The PDAC committee will submit its chosen projects to government officials, who will then decide which projects receive funding. This process is typically completed in April.
“We’re just really excited that the project has been so well received by PDAC,” Krane said. “I think people in the Dayton area might be inclined to think of Mercer and Auglaize as agricultural (areas), but the industrial manufacturing base is really taking off in a big way... It’s literally a boomtown.”