A community college in western Massachusetts has been awarded federal funding to build new classrooms to train people for careers in the hospitality industry, a field where job opportunities will explode in a few years with the opening of a casino in Springfield.
Holyoke Community College will receive $1.55 million from the federal Economic Development Administration to construct a new center to house the school’s hospitality and culinary arts program. Congressman Richard Neal made the announcement Friday morning at an event attended by college representatives and dozens of state and local officials.
" The sour mood among the electorate in America right now needs to be addressed by opportunity and economic growth and to move people past the doldrums they currently feel with great announcements like this," said Neal.
The college will use the federal funds to renovate the lower floors of a 95-year- old former factory building in downtown Holyoke. The college previously received a $1.75 million economic development grant from the state for furnishings and equipment for the new training center.
HCC President William Messner said it was a day to celebrate.
" We are also celebrating the fact that the hospitality industry, which does not get enough recognition for being a centerpiece for economic development in this region, is really going to be stepping forward over the next several years," he said.
The hospitality industry is one of the top three employers in western Massachusetts and one of the largest entry-level job markets with about 400 openings a year, according to Jeffrey Hayden, vice president of Business and Community Services for the college.
"We've got restaurants, banquet houses, nonprofits, and industry sectors like hospitals and long term care facilities that use hospitality and food service workers who have said again and again we need to scale up the entry level number of individuals that will be available to them," he said.
The new center will more than double the college’s capacity to train people in hospitality management and the culinary arts when it opens in 2017. Warren Leigh, the chairman of the program, said it will expand from a couple of classrooms now to 20,000 square feet of space where students will learn on state-of-the-art equipment that most top restaurant kitchens don’t even have yet.
" This is going to be it. This should be the place for people to get professional development," said Leigh. " It is awesome."
MGM Springfield has partnered with HCC and Springfield Technical Community College to development programs to train people for jobs in the resort casino which is scheduled to open in September 2018. MGM also has a formal agreement with the city of Holyoke to set aside a small percentage of the casino’s 3,000 jobs for Holyoke residents.
Messner said he was proud of the college’s decision to put the new job training center in downtown Holyoke in an area known as the “innovation district.”
The college will be expanding into an area of the city that includes the $165 million Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, and a new canal walk. Holyoke officials say the publicly funded development has led many artists and entrepreneurs to take spaces in the district’s numerous old factory buildings.