Special to The Dallas Examiner
Dallas County and Dallas College celebrated the Lancaster Innovation Center, a new advanced technical training center designed to create economic opportunities and expand education in an often-neglected area of Dallas County. It opened Oct. 20 with a celebration that included local business officials, elected officials and E Smith Communities, chaired by Hall of Fame former Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith, whose partnership with Dallas College made the center possible.
Dallas College Executive Vice Chancellor Justin Lonon joined Smith as well as administrators and presidents from the Dallas College campuses to formally open the 30,000 square foot center. Smith purchased the building in 2019 and began redeveloping it as hub of mixed-use space.
Lonon said the center would provide a glimpse into what has been unimaginable for those weary of dead-end, low paying jobs and want to start a new career that promises long-time employment, livable wages, and a bright future for generations.
“We are so excited about this center because this is what we do. We connect where there is a need,” Lonon stated. “This is a community where there is tremendous need. There are individuals looking for opportunities, and this provides a second chance for finding a new job. It’s part of the Dallas College mission to go where we’re needed and serve individuals and industries to close the gap between job opportunity and job placement.”
Dallas College Cedar Valley Campus, located at 4315 S. Lancaster Road in Lancaster, will use its 7,000 allocated square feet and a mobile training lab to provide high school equivalency education and job training, notably in construction. The center will also provide soft skills training, job readiness and financial literacy in an effort to bring long-term economic viability to Southern Dallas County.
Standing with the team who made the center possible, Smith said the potential of the center was inspiring.
“I know some of the challenges people face,” Smith said. “The opportunity to close the gap is what this center presents. The next phase is not yet here. Come here and build your own pathway. This is an opportunity for you to transform yourself and do what you’ve been called to do. It is important that we work to establish a path and places for people and communities to access the possibilities of what they can do and what they can become in a tangible way.
“My partner Tamela Thornton led the vision of how E Smith Communities could create a space that houses higher education, health care, small business and services in one location in a neighborhood that has been traditionally overlooked. Thanks to Tamela, our partner Debbie La Franchi of ASREF – or the American South Real Estate Fund – and our dynamic tenants, this community now has a strong education anchor in Dallas College in their backyard.”
Dallas College Cedar Valley Campus President Joe Seabrooks stressed the importance of getting students in the southern part of Dallas County into promising careers. Bringing classrooms to this often-neglected neighborhood, he said, is an opportunity to help build sustainable communities while eliminating barriers to success.
“For this entire community, what this space represents is that people can transform their lives without leaving their neighborhoods,” Seabrooks addressed to a crowd of 100-plus attendees. “We have to put people on career journeys. We have to help people find their way.”
Dallas County will see more than $5 billion worth of construction projects in a few years, he added, and getting a step in the door on those opportunities through the Center gives the unemployed and underemployed who may eventually want to own their own construction firms “the chance to do great things,” thanks to the career advisors, guidance counselors who will help build sustainable economic opportunities for those who enroll in programs at the Center.
Dr. Beatriz Joseph, Vice Chancellor of Student Success at Dallas College, emphasized that the Center is open to all populations in Dallas County, offering benefits assistance to those in need, as well.
“Dallas needs to do much more to prepare the workforce on a local level, to ensure that it is a city that takes care of its people no matter where they live,” she said.
This center will make the underemployed and previously unemployable ready to join Dallas’ skilled workforce, giving trainees a real chance at success, said Gloria Smith, associate vice chancellor of career-connected learning, workforce and advancement at Dallas College.
“It’s about expanding opportunities,” Smith said. “This is Dallas College giving back and providing training that will lead to economic upward mobility. We want to show them [the community] that their options are unlimited. We meet people where they are to get them where they want to be.”
Partners who assisted with this center included the city of Dallas, Regional Black Contractors Association, Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas (Women in Construction, partnership with Hilti North America), Greenlee, NC3 National Coalition of Certification Centers and the Dallas County Local Workforce Board.