Bartlett plans to close skills gap with TCAT campus

TCAT-general-logoThe new Bartlett campus of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology is expected to have a $17.5 million price tag, including state funding, grants and support from the City of Bartlett. The building is expected to be about 50,000 square feet.

“They used to say, ‘Build it, and they will come,’” said Mayor Keith McDonald. “Now it’s, ‘Train them and they will come.’”

The campus is expected to help meet the local medical device manufacturing industry’s need for highly skilled workers. Bartlett’s TCAT campus will make medical devices and machining as a major focus of study, but it will also include other fields, according to Roland Rayner, director of TCAT-Memphis. He said Tuesday that the facility will include training in heavy power diesel equipment technology; automotive technology (particularly useful with all the dealerships in the area); welding; heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC); and industrial maintenance (hydraulics, pneumatics, etc.).

“Bartlett is going to be served in a major way,” he said. Arlington, Cordova and all of the neighbors that touch that corridor also will have the opportunity to take advantage of that training.

At its early April meeting, the Bartlett city board authorized McDonald to sign a letter of intent to buy 13 acres for the new campus at a cost of $375,000. The site is composed of two adjacent parcels southwest of the intersection of Yale Road and Brother Boulevard, across the street from the corporate park. The purchase has a due diligence period of 90 days. Bartlett will give the land to the Tennessee Board of Regents and make other investments for a total contribution of $1 million, according to Mark Brown, Bartlett’s chief administrative officer.

Additional funding for the campus includes:
•An $11.5 million investment from the Tennessee Board of Regents.
•$4 million from a grant related to Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive campaign,
•which has the goal of equipping at least 55 percent of the state’s students with a college degree or certificate by 2025.
•A $1 million Gene Haas Foundation grant.

Alderman David Parsons commented, “It’s a major investment toward our youth, and tying in with the local high school, I’m real excited about having TCAT college in Bartlett, Tenn.”

TCAT-Bartlett fits hand-in-glove with an existing program at Bartlett High School to create a career path from high school through certification and into a lucrative career. In the fall of 2016, Bartlett High invested about $400,000 in a machine tool technology lab. Those funds came from TCAT, the Tennessee Board of Recents and a state bill. This lab will get a brand-new location in the vocational-technical building that will be constructed, assuming the high school’s proposed renovations and the necessary funding are approved.

It’s too early to speculate when the TCAT-Bartlett construction will begin, much less when the Bartlett campus will open, but Rayner said students can expect time-efficient programs once the school is in place. The same or comparable programs at other TCAT campuses typically take students one year to 20 months to complete.

These certifications are known as “open entry, open exit” programs. Rayner explained that students can often move through at their own speed. For example, a student who’s worked in his dad’s HVAC business for years, or someone who’s got some auto repair experience, can take a test to demonstrate subject area knowledge and then move on to more advanced studies in his or her field.

“We’re not going to make you sit in a seat for six months for something you already know how to do,” he said.

The old truism of “Many hands make light the work” was true for the drive to construct this local TCAT campus. The effort included Sen. Mark Norris (R-Collierville) championing the idea, and he worked toward the $4 grant for more than a year in concert with the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council, the city of Bartlett and the Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce.

The idea for a local tech college goes years further back, too. BACC president John Threadgill said the chamber’s 2011 survey of local medical device manufacturing companies revealed one major worry that kept those executives up at night: Lack of a skilled workforce, particularly machinists. It wasn’t practical for each company to invest individually in developing or searching widely for such workers. It was clear that a joint effort was needed, because “no workers” means “no industry.”

The Chamber fostered the formation of the Greater Memphis Medical Device Council, founded in 2014. The group allows the industry to speak as one voice to address their issues. It’s needed in a location this rich in the industry. Sen. Norris has noted thatShelby County is home to more medical device manufacturers and suppliers than almost any county in the United States.

Norris has also said the medical device industry is Tennessee’s largest exporter, responsible for 17,000 local jobs. It contributes $2.6 billion to the economy and some $46 million in annual revenues to state and local governments.

Rayner emphasized gratitude for the movers, shakers and all-around supporters who are making the Bartlett campus happen. “We really need to thank Senator Norris, as well as our legislators, your great Mayor McDonald, Mark Brown, the GMMDC and as well the citizens of Bartlett who were a major, major player in this. And giving us a million dollars to assist with this project – we truly appreciate them for that.”

He continued praising the support, adding, “We would not be where we are today if not for that.”

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138, or