Houston economic development director Rob Harrington.

Houston’s economic developer unveiled an ambitious plan Monday to launch technical training in a vacant building in the downtown business district.

Rob Harrington, who was hired in September to spark economic opportunity in Houston, proposed to the Houston City Council that the South Central Ozark Entrepreneurship and Business Development Center be located in a nearly vacant building on Spruce Street owned by the Houston Development Co. (HDC). A portion of the building is used by Drury University.

Harrington said HDC plans to form a not-for-profit corporation and board to help secure grant funding and donations. Money is readily available for technical education and training.

Harrington reported that many high school students are not best suited for a college education and instead need technical skills. He said about 40 percent of teenagers who enroll in college never complete a degree and need training to succeed in a career field.

As part of his pitch, Harrington pointed out the Houston School District currently sends its students to the South Central Career Center in West Plains. He said students spend two hours traveling to and from the school daily.

Harrington said many manufacturers are hampered by the lack of a trained workforce and could expand if they had properly trained employees.

Drury in building

This Houston Development Co. building on Spruce Street was transformed earlier into a satellite of Drury University in Springfield. In addition to college classes, a Cox College program offers nursing instruction. Plans for the balance of the building were discussed Monday at a Houston City Council meeting. 

Keys to success, said Harrington, are:

•Determining what employers need.

•Assessing what students want — including everything from welding to culinary arts.

•Developing great class selection.

•Working closely with partners.

Harrington said there are a variety of potential community partners for the center — and classes could be offered for students, adults, those seeking continuing education and targeted apprenticeships and internships to allow students to test whether the field was something they might want to pursue.

Additionally training classes could be instituted with the Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri Department of Corrections and Missouri Department of Economic Development, the latter which often contracts with such a center to train employees with a manufacturing plant locates in the region.

Harrington said he plans to call a community meeting at the beginning of the year with community and business leaders to seek input and develop a plan for the project. Quarterly meetings are planned.

“I think it is real important to get something done,” said Mayor Don Tottingham.

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