Skip to content

Grant to aid county schools’ vocational programs

$175k funds provided by Bongards/RDP grant
partnership – Humboldt to receive $100,000

DEMONSTRATION – Humboldt High School senior Destin Fuller demonstrates how to use a welder (not live) in one of the new welding booths in the CTE department. HR Manager Jeff Gaston (left) with Bongards was at the school last week checking out the new upgrades in the vocational department made possible by a grant from Bongards and Rural Development Partners. Juniors Cortez Dickey (second from left) and Dion Manley (right) check out Fuller’s technique.

by Danny Wade

A local industry is partnering with area schools to provide funding for CTE (career and technical education) programs. Bondards is participating in a partnership to boost high school student opportunities to receive training as they prepare to go into the workforce.

Bongards and Rural Development Partners have joined forces to offer a $175,000 Workforce Training Grant for workforce development. RDP, located in Iowa, works with industries by providing matching grants, focusing on training high school students living in rural areas.

In turn, Bongards here in Humboldt selected county high schools to receive funds to upgrade the schools’ CTE programs.

“We are very excited about the opportunity this investment provides to our local students, as it has the potential to benefit all students within Gibson County,” said Jeff Gaston, human resources manager for the Humboldt Bongards facility. “As a manufacturing organization, we recognize the ever-evolving technical skills needed by today’s workforce. The funds will be used to expand the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at both the Humboldt and Milan High Schools, as well as provide access to students from surrounding schools in Gibson County to benefit from to those expanded programs as well.”

Humboldt City Schools will receive the bulk of the fund, allotted $100,000. Funds will be used mainly for infrastructure of Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School’s aged vocational department. The 43-year-old building is in serious need of upgrades.
Improvements include demolition of existing walls, electrical circuits and exhaust systems, and rebuilding and replacing them. The boys’ restrooms will also be renovated. Other funds will be used to replace CTE equipment.

“The Humboldt City School CTE Department received a donation/investment from Bongards for upgrades on our metal shop,” said interim superintendent Lillian Shelton. “The restoration included total reconstruction of the restroom in the shop area, new equipment, new tools and many other important safety equipment to enhance our shop area. We greatly appreciate the support team that came to work diligently with Mr. Prince and our students. Much time and planning was put into making this project a success.”

Milan High School, Peabody High School and Gibson County Special School District will each receive $24,333 through the workforce grant.

Milan High School is undergoing a renovation in the career and technical education building, including the implementation of a state-of-the-art industrial maintenance lab to supplement the existing on-campus TCAT classes. Beginning as freshmen, students will have access to this program and are able to leave campus their senior year to finish certification programs at TCAT Jackson.

“Without support like this from our local manufacturing facilities, it would be almost impossible for a public school to purchase equipment like this,” stated Milan CTE Director Candi Collier. “We are well on our way to having a cutting edge industrial maintenance lab thanks to this gift from Bongards.”

Trenton Peabody’s “big ticket” item purchased through the grant is a Miller SMT 350, which does arc welding, MIG welding and TIG welding. The MIG welding includes a pulse spray arc weld, which Peabody agriculture instructor Michael Allen said is something really new.

“Without this grant none of these purchases would have been possible,” said Trenton Special School District CTE Director June McCourt. “Peabody High School and the CTE program are certainly appreciative of the grant money and the learning opportunities this new equipment presents to all students in these programs and to future students.”

The Gibson County Special School District is beginning an industrial maintenance program that will be offered to both South Gibson County High School and Gibson County High School students.

Gibson County High School purchased moto control trainers and electric multimeters with other electrical tools for the new industrial maintenance program that Tyson Foods and other industry partners helped create. South Gibson County High School students interested in the course are bused to GCHS in Dyer.

“Our industrial partners have really helped us out,” said Rory Hinson, CTE director for the Gibson County Special School District. “All of our county school districts are really listening to the needs of our county industries. The lines of communication are really open, and that’s what we want.”

These purchases would help equip the industrial maintenance facility with items necessary to ensure students are workforce ready. This equipment would also help to make sure they are meeting the needs of our local industries.

Even though Bradford High School does not have a CTE department, the school will receive $2,000 to help fund transportation expenses for their students to travel to either Milan High School or Gibson County High School to participate in their CTE program.

Gibson County Economic Development Director Kingsley Brock played a key role in getting all the entities together in the partnership grant program. CEO of Rural Development Partners Jonathan Klaassen and RDP’s Kaye Grahn, along with Bongard’s’ CFO Chris Freeman and Gaston worked with Brock to land this grant program that will not only benefit Gibson County’s students, but benefit local industries when searching to fill key positions within their companies.

Rural Development Partners is a certified Community Development Entity that has won nine New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) awards from the U.S. Treasury totaling $606.7 million. In 2017, RDP partnered with Bongards Creameries to transform and expand a shuttered plant in Humboldt, bringing high quality jobs and economic vitality to the community. In addition, RDP, through its Community Investment Program, asked Bongards to donate $87,500 to support workforce development initiatives in Humboldt and the surrounding area. RDP provided matching funds for a total grant of $175,000. Bongards and RDP worked with community leaders to determine the most impactful use of the grant funds.

“RDP has been privileged to work with Bongards and our community partners in and around Humboldt to support and enhance technical training programs that will benefit workers and employers in west Tennessee,” said Klaassen.

Workforce development is one of the primary challenges companies as well as communities face today. As manufacturing processes continue to evolve through advances in technology, the importance of a trained and skilled workforce is critical to the growth and success of manufacturing companies.

“The Bongards and Rural Development Partners workforce training grant has allowed Gibson County High Schools to upgrade their facilities and industrial maintenance training equipment, which will enable them to better prepare our students for successful careers in manufacturing,” said Brock. “We are grateful and appreciative to Bongards and Rural Development Partners and are fortunate for the commitment each company has in promoting and supporting workforce development in Gibson County. Gibson County has some of the best Career and Technical Training programs in the state and our CTE directors are also among the best in Tennessee. This training grant has allowed Gibson County High Schools to further support the growth of our companies, our communities, and the future careers of our young adults.

SHOP UPGRADES – The CTE department at Humboldt Jr./Sr. High School received grant funding of $100,000 from Bongards and Rural Development partners. Students built the new welding booth walls behind them, while professionals did all new electrical wiring, and removed and replaced the exhaust system. Those in the shop are (from left) Chamber Director Amanda Love, Interim Superintendent Lillian Shelton, CTE Director Wayne Sheehan, Bongards’ HR Manager Jeff Gaston, and high school students Cortex Dickey, Nakari Williams, Destin Fuller, Victor Mata and Dion Manley.

Investment in Humboldt

According to Bongards CFO Freeman, in 2017 Bongards Creameries announced that the company would nearly double the size of one of its three production facilities, expanding its Humboldt, Tenn., plant from 110,000 square feet to 190,000. Construction was completed in late 2018.

Renovations and updates on the existing facility were also completed. The expansion has allowed Bongards to increase our overall production, packaging and processing capabilities and better serve our growing customer base in the Southeastern United States.

In the three years since the expansion was started, Bongards has added more than 90 new jobs to their Humboldt workforce.
Bongards’ headquarters are located in Chanhassen, Minn.

With all five school districts in Gibson County receiving grant funds, students have the opportunity to obtain the education and hands-on learning to be workforce ready right out of high school.
(Victor Parkins and Crystal Burns contributed to this article.)

Leave a Comment