Submitted by Microsoft
"It is a perfect model of Microsoft's vision of a connected learning community -- a community working together to build its own work force," said Diana Carew, Microsoft's manager of community and technical college programs. Last month, Carew traveled to the town of Mexico, Mo., to attend a graduation ceremony where Microsoft announced a donation of nearly $50,000 in state-of-the-art software to the Mexico Advanced Technology Center (MATC).
Don Schlueter, MATC's chief administrator, said that Microsoft's donation would go a long way toward keeping the center current. "Trying to keep up with technology is an expensive endeavor," he said. "Microsoft's donation of the latest versions of software helps us keep up with the changing technology."
Situated in a town of approximately 12,000 people, MATC represents a definite adjustment in the economic development strategy of a region that was once primarily agricultural. Originally envisioned as a training ground for the area's manufacturing and distribution industrial base, the MATC's focus has shifted to technology.
"Information technology is obviously a huge field, and any time you train somebody in that area they're in high demand," Schlueter said. "This is a largely agricultural area, and in the mid- to late-1980s the farm economy was really hurting. Mexico has done a good job of attracting industry, but they're really shifting the focus to information technology."
Over the past 10 years, Mexico has attracted nearly 20 manufacturing and distribution companies with product lines that range from pharmaceuticals to French bread to assemble-it-yourself airplane kits. "We discovered that we needed technical training," said Barbara Pickering, assistant to Mexico's city manager. "We didn't have a college here, and we felt the area could really use one. We felt like the technical college would best suit our needs."
During the planning process, the project caught the attention of one of Mexico's favorite sons -- U.S. Senator and former two-time Missouri governor Kit Bond, who has backed the project ever since learning about it. "It is tremendously good news that Microsoft is donating more than $48,000 worth of software to the MATC," he said during remarks made at the graduation ceremony. "Skilled technicians are needed in all industries as they rely more on information technology, and state-of-the-art computer equipment is badly needed to train [people] for these jobs. Microsoft's generosity will allow Missouri students to be trained to fill the high-tech jobs."
Bond explained that the partnership between Microsoft and MATC evolved out of discussions he had with Microsoft when he visited the campus in Redmond, Wash., as chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business. His mission at that time was to explore different ways in which small businesses can further integrate the advantages of technology.
"At the time, Microsoft officials told me how they worked with community colleges and vocational schools to train the very large workforce that will be needed for informational technology in the future," he said. "I then suggested Mexico officials contact Microsoft, and we are very pleased to see that they found a natural fit. Microsoft obviously has the technology and the software. MATC has the facilities and a large group of workers who are anxious, able and ready to learn."
At the ceremony, MATC was also designated as a Microsoft Authorized Academic Training Partner (AATP). This training program will allow MATC to provide training for Microsoft networking and developer technologies. By using authorized material and curriculum designed for the Microsoft Certified Professional program, the training will help students earn industry-recognized certification for system engineers and developers.
"The AATP program is Microsoft's way of addressing the workforce shortage in the technology field," Carew said. "The shortage is so critical that the U.S. has relaxed requirements for work visas so that people from other countries can help meet the demand. Microsoft is really addressing the training issues to support the industry."
For now, the future of MATC looks bright. Pickering explained that plans are under way to double the facility from 40,000 to 80,000 square feet, a significant part of which will be used for additional classroom and information technology programs. Pickering said that the groundwork is already being laid for fundraising and expressed her confidence in Mexico's ability to continue to draw a diverse range of new industry to the area.
"It might sound hokey," she said, "but companies come here because of the people. Several companies that relocated here will tell you that. The strategy is to get them here, show them the community and let them see what we have to offer."
Hokey or not, it's a strategy with which Carew probably wouldn't argue. "My short visit to Mexico, Missouri, gave me a great respect for their townspeople and their commitment to a shared vision for their community," she said. "We were hosted at a lunch in a private home that was attended by local civic leaders as well as people from the colleges -- they all took time out of their Saturdays to come and describe the process and share their vision for MATC. It really resonated with me that the entire community came together to build its future."
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