TANNER, Alabama – Construction work is beginning on an expansion at the Alabama Robotics Technology Park (RPT) that will add new capabilities to a facility that’s already considered one of the world’s most innovative training centers.
A groundbreaking ceremony for the RTP’s Integration, Entrepreneurial and Paint Dispensing Training Center was held Friday, Oct. 31. The addition of a third building will complete the original vision of state leaders who wanted to create an educational, research, entrepreneurial, and training robotics park that would enhance Alabama’s economic and workforce development efforts.
Once the expansion is complete, the RTP’s three facilities will have a total investment topping $73 million.
“This whole facility and particularly RTP Phase III is a sign of what happens when a state listens to its business community, and asks the question, ‘What can we do to better provide you the resources to answer the challenges that are facing you so that you can be successful in our state?'” Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield said at the groundbreaking ceremony.
The planned 50,000-square-foot building is designed to let employees of companies train on new equipment and software before a company installs it in a factory. The park’s Phase III building will let employees test ahead of time how well new products will work together.
The building also will include an area for training employees to use robots and manual spraying to paint vehicle parts or other products.
“The Alabama Robotics Technology Park is one of the biggest assets we can have for companies,” Governor Bentley said in June, when he released $6 million for the expansion. “The park allows us to provide an opportunity for a technically trained, highly skilled and educated workforce for jobs in Alabama. The Robotics Technology Park is an opportunity that can help companies be successful in Alabama.”
AIDT, the workforce training division of the Alabama Department of Commerce that runs the Alabama RTP, got $3 million of the construction cost last year from a state bond issue. The remaining $6 million, from another state bond issue, was released in June by the Alabama Incentives Financing Authority, which is led by Governor Bentley.
“There really is no other facility in the nation that can offer advanced manufacturers the level of hands-on training this one can,” Canfield said. “Expanding the center through this third phase will make its capabilities even more valuable to companies while giving Alabama another advantage in industrial recruitment.”
About 75 employees sent for training by companies such as Honda, Navistar, Toyota and many auto suppliers, use the park in a typical month, park manager Rick Maroney said in June. They attend classes on safety, maintenance, welding or operating robots and programmable controllers. Most classes offer 40 hours of training.
A company must have a plant in Alabama to send employees to RTP, which does not charge for the training. The park, across U.S. 31 from Calhoun Community College, has been open since early 2011.
“The impact this has had on our state’s economic development efforts is indeed significant,” Calhoun President Marilyn Beck said at the groundbreaking, according to a report on AL.com.
The park’s Phase 1 building, which covers 60,000 square feet, cost the state $17.3 million to build and equip. In it, technicians learn how to maintain automated equipment. The building is equipped with 40 robots and has a lab for automated welding.
The park’s Phase II building, which covers 43,000 square feet, cost the state about $8 million. In it, company workers test new robots or other automated equipment. Outside is a mile-long track for testing unmanned vehicles.
Besides the state dollars spent on those two buildings, companies have loaned equipment worth about $40 million for use at RPT.
Business Facilities magazine in its March/April issue gave one of its annual economic development awards to AIDT for achievement in workforce training, citing Robotics Technology Park. The magazine wrote that the park “is considered one of the world’s most innovative and futuristic training centers.”
Area Development, another economic development-focused publication, called the park “ahead of the curve.”