LCEDG gets $40K virtual welder grant


FORT MADISON – The Lee County Economic Development Group has secured a grant to bring a virtual reality welder to the county as part of a future Career Exploration Center in the county.

Governor Kim Reynolds announced 13 awardees of the Future Ready Iowa Employer Innovation Fund, a matching grant designed to help employers carry out solutions to help their employees achieve post-secondary training and education. The purpose of the grant is to provide opportunities for Iowans to earn non-credit and for-credit post-secondary credentials leading to high-demand jobs.

“We are delighted to have been awarded a 2021 Future Ready Iowa Employer Innovation Fund grant. These virtual welders will become the cornerstone of the virtual reality training lab that will be part of our Career Exploration Center,” said Lee County EDG CEO Dennis Fraise. “When education, business and industry, and economic development work together, great things happen.”

The Employer Innovation Grant requires educators to work with industries to develop training for in-demand local careers. Lee County EDG partnered with Huffman Welding & Machine, Steffensmeier Welding & Manufacturing, Gregory Design and Manufacturing, Southeastern Community College, Keokuk Community School District, and Fort Madison Community School District. Students will experience welding via virtual reality and visit our local partner manufacturers to see practical welding and manufacturing technology applications.

“We are incredibly pleased to be part of the team responsible for bringing access to leading-edge virtual welding technology for our students,” said Bob Huffman of Huffman Welding & Machine. “Career exploration will help our young people explore and understand the outstanding opportunities that exist in Lee County.”

The virtual welders will help train students as a stepping stone to the welding program at SCC.

“We’re excited to have contributed to this project as we believe in the efforts of showcasing career opportunities to students,” said Dr. Ashlee Spannagel, Dean of CTE & Workforce Development at SCC.

SCC has a day and evening welding program that prepares students with advanced skills to enter a high-wage, in-demand career.

“It’s an exciting time for students in southeast Iowa as these virtual welders will provide greater exposure to students, parents, and community members and empower these individuals to consider a career in welding,” continued Spannagel.

This project’s goal is to engage students and adult learners to help them understand the link between job skills, practical applications, and access to in-demand advanced manufacturing production jobs as welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers.

The welding simulators will expose learners to Gas Metal Arc Welding, Shielded Metal Arc Welding, Gas Tungsten Arc Welding, and Flux Cored Arc Welding.

“We are thrilled to have this partnership between Keokuk and Ft. Madison Schools, SCC, the Lee County Economic Development Group, and many local business and industry leaders,” said Keokuk Superintendent Chris Barnes. “This group is committed to a vision of providing new career exploration and training opportunities to area students, and ultimately providing a skilled workforce to Lee County employers. This grant is a step towards realizing that vision.”

“It’s an exciting time for us to be able to expand opportunities for our students in the area of Career Technical Education (CTE). This initial step is evidence of the power of partnerships between school districts, community college and business and industry to increase real-world experiences for our district students,” said Dr. Erin M. Slater, Superintendent for Fort Madison Community School District.

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