Crain’s Cleveland Business

By Shannon Mortland

February 20-26, 2006

The University of Akron is ready to move forward on its proposed Medina County University Center, which will focus on work force development for local businesses.

The university has raised $8 million to erect the first building on the planned campus, which will be built on a 44-acre plot at Wedgewood and Lake roads in Lafayette Township, said Holly Harris-Bane, director of strategic initiatives at the University of Akron.

Construction on the first phase, which includes a 33,000-square-foot building for classrooms, is set to begin this summer. The site is scheduled to open in August 2007.

In the meantime, the university has formed four subcommittees to work on the center’s architecture, communications, development and curriculum, Ms. Harris-Bane said. The university also is searching for a director to develop the courses that will be offered at the site.

Some courses for existing workers already are being designed and will be offered to the local polymer industry starting in May, Ms Harris-Bane said.

The university has a strong presence in that field due to its College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering.

The university also has been talking to local business leaders to find out what kind of employee training is needed most, she said.

“What are they looking for in terms of training on the floor, in management?” Ms. Harris-Bane said.

The center as a whole will focus on providing new and continuing education for incumbent workers and people looking to enter new careers, she said, though not all students will need to go to the building to attend classes. Some courses will be offered online or on the plant floor.

Many of the courses will be designed as “modules,” which typically are completed in 16 hours over a few days, rather than the traditional 15-week course, Ms. Harris-Bane said. Initially, courses will be offered in education, polymers and nursing/allied health, she said.

Jim Duott, executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corp., said representatives of businesses such as the Westfield Group insurance firm and Medina General Hospital attended a meeting last month to discuss curriculum at the university center. He said local polymer companies also have expressed interest.

Medina County also is working to develop a 70-acre technology park adjacent to the center that will be designed to attract businesses in biomedical, information technology, instrument and controls, aerospace and advanced manufacturing, Mr. Doutt said.

The county in September 2003 received a $1 million grant from the state to develop a roadway leading into the new technology park and university center. The grant requires the county to establish 110 high-tech, high-paying jobs in the technology park within five years, and the clock began ticking last summer, Mr. Doutt said.

County leaders have spoken with various companies about locating in the new tech park, but no deals have been inked yet, Mr. Doutt said. He expects businesses to get more excited about the park once they can see the university center being built.

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