The largest capital investment in the history of Ozarks Technical Community College will bear the name of the late businessman and philanthropist Robert W. Plaster. The announcement came at the groundbreaking for the Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM) today, Nov. 12 at the OTC Springfield Campus.
The stated goals of the Robert W. Plaster Foundation are “to promote expanded educational opportunities, pride in America, and belief in the free enterprise system for the benefit of America’s youth through named capital projects.” Those goals lined up with the Center for Advanced Manufacturing and led the foundation to make a significant, naming-level investment in the CAM.
“Dad would be very pleased to help with this exciting project, which will give many more students the opportunity to improve their lives through education and free enterprise,” said Dr. Dolly Plaster Clement, Robert W. Plaster’s daughter and the executive director of the Robert W. Plaster Foundation.
The $40 million Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing is the first of its kind in southwest Missouri. The CAM, housed at the corner of National Avenue and Chestnut Expressway in Springfield, will feature the latest educational advancements and training opportunities in robotics, fabrication, mechatronics, automation, and drafting and design.
The 120,000-square-foot facility will be home to many of OTC’s technical programs, including:
- Industrial Systems Technology
- Manufacturing Technology
- Precision Machining
- Drafting and Design
- Computer Networking
Besides those degree programs, the CAM will feature classes in automation, fabrication, robotics and additive manufacturing (3D printing).
In addition to courses designed for traditional students, the CAM will offer continuing education for individuals and companies through the Center for Workforce Development. The CAM’s footprint will also include a business incubation center, and a space reserved for local industry to conduct training, research and development.
“We need to make sure the next generation of workers has the opportunity to live the American Dream, and that can happen through institutions like OTC and projects like the CAM,” said Missouri Governor Mike Parson.
The CAM was made possible in April of 2018 when voters in the OTC Taxing District passed a five-cent property tax increase, which raised the college’s property tax to 20 cents — still the lowest of any community college in the state. Chancellor Hal Higdon promised, if the tax initiative passed, OTC would build a Center for Advanced Manufacturing.
“Promises made are promises kept,” Higdon said. “We are grateful to the people of southwest Missouri who voted to make this facility possible. Not only will it help the workers and businesses who currently call the Ozarks home, but we also hope it will attract new, high-tech industry to the region.”
The ability to train the next generation of workers on modern equipment prompted Emerson, a global technology and engineering firm based in St. Louis, to donate half-a-million dollars to the project in the summer of 2020. Emerson’s investment will fund the Emerson Innovation Discovery Lab, which will serve as a starting and ending point for facility tours with hands-on activities for students and tour participants.
“A great workforce is the most important asset we have to serve our customers with solutions and components for energy-efficient air-conditioning systems,” said Keith Calhoun, director of operations for Emerson’s compressor manufacturing locations in Missouri. “We have dozens of OTC graduates at our facilities in Lebanon and Ava. Those employees help use make millions of compressors. That’s why this commitment from Emerson to OTC is mutually beneficial.”
Besides the donation from Emerson, the State of Missouri awarded OTC a $4.75 million grant through the MoExcels Workforce Initiative. MoExcels is managed through the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development and supports local workforce initiatives in the state. That funding paid for much of the equipment and educational apparatus that will be housed in the facility located on the northwest corner of Chestnut Expressway and National Avenue.
Crossland Construction was awarded the bid to build the CAM, and construction will begin immediately. Local firm Dake|Wells along with national partner Perkins&Will are the architects for the project. The college plans to have the facility complete by the fall of 2022.