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DEWITT, Iowa – Shadowed by the steel frame of the new 26,000-square-foot DeWitt Career Advancement Center, Eastern Iowa Community Colleges (EICC) celebrated its $40 million regional expansion here with the symbolic turning of the dirt on Wednesday morning, Oct. 5. “What a great day this is,” proclaimed Brian Kelly, President of Clinton Community College. The DeWitt Career Advancement Center sits on six acres of land that runs along Highway 30 in DeWitt’s Crossroads Business Park. The facility will consist of two wings – one with classrooms and the other wing featuring a large, open space for industrial and agricultural teaching use. This project is part of the $40 million bond referendum that passed in March 2021. Other expansion projects underway by EICC include new construction at the Clinton Community College’s main campus and at Muscatine Community College. Those projects are slated for completion this fall. “We’re at a groundbreaking and next fall we’ll be opening up this new center,” Mr. Kelly added. “I had the great opportunity to talk to some students this morning who are already picking out the programs they’re going to be in and we looked at their classrooms over on the map.” Students from Calamus-Wheatland High School spoke with the QCBJ after the ground-breaking and beam signing ceremony to share their enthusiasm for the new DeWitt Center. They agreed that as concurrent enrollment high school students, the DeWitt Career Advancement Center will give them the opportunity to get hands-on-learning while still in high school. One student said traveling all the way to Clinton the programs would not even be an option. The DeWitt Center is only about a 20 minute drive from their high school in Wheatland. “I think it’s amazing that we have this opportunity with it being so close in DeWitt,” said Courtney Knoche, a Calamus-Wheatland junior. “It’s awesome that we have this education and we have these people that are willing to work with us. And I think the teachers here understand these are high school students that are working hard to get their college education because they want to have a career in the future.” Programs to be offered at the center include: agriculture, business, construction technology, CNC machining, health care and information technology. These programs are part of Eastern Iowa Community Colleges Career Academies, which give high school students a jump on their career education before they leave high school. Through EICC’s Career Academies, area high school juniors and seniors will be able to earn college credit and gain valuable hands-on experience in these high-demand industries at no cost to them. “This is an incredibly exciting time for EICC, DeWitt and the surrounding community,” said Sonya Williams, EICC’s new chancellor. “Together through this expansion of career technology, education, we will ensure that all Iowans have access to the opportunities necessary for a prosperous and productive future.” According to Mr. Kelly, four out of five jobs that were lost during the last recession were lost by individuals with a high school education or less. He said EICC’s strategy of embedding career technical education into high schools is an investment into the future of our communities. Mr. Kelly applauded the collaboration between industry, the local school districts, and EICC for building these efforts together. According to a recent Washington Post analysis, Iowa is the 10th worst state in the nation with the problem of ‘brain drain’ … the percentage difference between the number of college graduates produced and the number of college graduates living in the state. In Iowa, only about one third of college graduates stay in the state to work after completing their education. “My hope is that you all will want to stay in Iowa,” Ms. Williams told the Calamus-Wheatland students. “This is what this is about. Building up our workforce and you know you guys are our future. You know you are young, you get a taste of what it’s like, but you know what, always remember where you came from. Come back home and bring your talents back.” At least one of the students has that plan. “I want to stay in Iowa and I would love to stay close to my hometown,” Ms. Knoche said, adding “and I think this is a great opportunity to learn in my hometown and spread it.” Mr. Kelly added that the community has seen many changes in the workforce over the past several years and this partnership between school districts and local businesses will address a shifting workforce dynamic as well as provide additional opportunities to be a part of the solution. Estes Construction, Davenport, and Studio 483 Architects, Rock Island, have been retained by EICC for the construction project. The facility is expected to be open for use in fall 2023.