$2.3M State Grant Will Expand Regional Workforce Training

SALINEVILLE, Ohio – A growing workforce-training program in Columbiana County, the Utica Shale Academy of Ohio, will be able to expand its reach.

USA Superintendent Bill Watson announced Monday the school has been awarded a $2.35 million state grant to increase workforce training in the four-county area – Columbiana, Mahoning, Carroll and Jefferson.

The Appalachia Community Grant Program through the governor’s office awarded $50 million in development grants in total Monday, the first step of a $500 million investment.

Watson said the grant will be used to build a facility that will house both the heavy equipment operation program and adult training after school hours. USA will offer a recovery-to-work program, which includes a partnership with the Mahoning County Pathways Hub.

“We have three certified health workers who are helping people struggling with addiction and young mothers, so we are hoping to pair both educational opportunities up with health opportunities,” Watson said.

The Utica Shale Academy began as a dropout recovery and prevention school, which focuses on career tech education for at-risk students. After sharing space at Southern Local High School for a few years, the academy set up its own location in Salineville in the Hutson Building, a former office space, which was renovated to be used for more traditional education classes and office space. Through a $300,000 Ohio capital appropriation, the academy was able to purchase the Huntington Bank building up the hill and renovate it into an industrial maintenance lab and light diesel mechanics training facility.

Then the academy began expanding on the other side of the street, acquiring 3.5 acres and recently constructing an indoor-outdoor welding lab.

“I feel like we’ve grown quite a bit in the last couple of years,” Watson said. “Bringing [Rob Mehno] in to write grants has been a blessing.”

This grant is called the Connecting Communities Through Workforce Training grant, which will be combined with other money and grants for the construction of a new facility on the 3.5-acre property.

That will allow the Utica Shale Academy to offer more heavy equipment operating training and provide them spaces for additional classes. Additionally, it reduces the barrier for students in the region, many who cannot travel long distances, in order to get training for better jobs.

In addition, the academy often partners with the Sustainable Opportunity Development Center in Salem and Youngstown State University’s Excellence Training Center to help provide additional training opportunities in areas such as industrial maintenance, 3D printing, 5G and robotics.

Julie Needs, director of the SOD Center, said the grant will allow them to expand what they can offer as well, adding more equipment, more training programs and reaching additional people and businesses. Needs said employers needing the space to train someone on equipment will be able to access the SOD Center’s technical training area also. The SOD Center is not just for Salem residents, positively impacting people in 68 different Zip codes.

(From the office of Gov. Mike DeWine)

“Utica has done several of our training classes,” Needs said. The USA has instructed some of the classes at the SOD Center, bringing some of its equipment to Salem to train people. With additional equipment, not only can more people receive the training, but they can also offer more hands-on time during training.

“We’re just thrilled,” Needs said. “We’re very excited and very grateful that the governor’s office of Appalachia chose this grant and this project. We feel what we’ve been doing makes a big difference, but this is going to allow us to make such a larger impact across that four-county region.”

The grant was one of four announced Monday by DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and Ohio Department of Development Director Lydia Mihalik. The other three grants are for projects in southeastern Ohio, which include assistance for better health care, food support, historic building renovations, workforce training and tourism.

Pictured at top: From left, Matt Gates, USA career tech director; Julie Needs, SOD Center director; Rob Mehno, USA grant coordinator; Eva Slagel, SOD training coordinator; Laura Krulik, USA special education coordinator; Southern Local Treasurer Greg Sabbato; Southern Local Superintendent Tom Cunningham; Carter Hill, USA dean of students; and USA Superintendent Bill Watson.

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