State and local leaders gathered at the Jackson County Industrial Park in Hollywood to break ground on the Jackson County Innovation Center and Career Academy a multimillion-dollar investment by the Jackson County Board of Education.
"This is a big day for Jackson County. This is a great day for Jackson County Schools," said Jackson County Schools Superintendent in an emotional speech given during the ground breaking.
The project — a $29 million educational facility created as a partnership between Jackson County Schools and the Jackson County Economic Development Authority — is set to provide a location for students learning everything from AP computer science to HVAC repair by 2022.
Dukes stated that the 66,000 square foot building, which sits on 31 acres of land purchased by the Jackson County School System roughly a year ago, will house a performing arts center capable of holding 750 people and provide spaces for art, music, trade education and STEM education spaces.
Dukes hopes that the project will provide students a direct pipeline from education to a job through hands-on instruction. The facility will also house mathematics and computer science classes.
"This facility will benefit all Jackson County Students," finished Dukes.
Congressman Mo Brooks, who represents much of North Alabama in the U.S. House of Representatives, congratulated all of the elected leaders who were involved in the project and noted that the facility is a "game changer" for Jackson County.
Brooks also discussed how he sees the facility as part of a larger vision of both local and state leaders as a vision for North Alabama saying that it will function "like a magnet" for industry as the surrounding area grows.
State Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey mentioned that STEM education has become an important part of the basic curriculum for students to be ready for a rapidly modernizing workplace.
"We want to be able to draw jobs here in Alabama that are both technical for both people who want to work with their hands — who are good at that — who want to stay in Alabama and we want good paying jobs for them here," said Mackey, adding that he hopes that this kind of project will prevent Alabama's students from having to move to other areas of the country for STEM careers.
Workforce development has become an underlying mission of Gov. Ivey, who was scheduled to be at the ground breaking but was unable due to a scheduling conflict.
The Governor unveiled a plan called Success Plus in 2018, as part of the Alabama Works initiative, which set out an educational attainment goal of adding more than 500,000 skilled workers in Alabama by 2025, to make up for projected losses of skilled workers in the state.
The facility will be in addition to the vocational school and hopes to further the workforce development possibilities for Jackson County and North Alabama in many STEM fields. It has been hailed as one of the first facilities of its kind in the state of Alabama.
The innovation center is located in the Jackson County Industrial Park located off of Highway 72 and has a planned opening of Fall 2022.