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Chamber luncheon focuses on education

The theme of the Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Business and Community Luncheon was all about education with three representatives from three education institutions speaking at the May program in the Centene Center.

Jeff Cauley, director of UniTec Career Center in Bonne Terre, updated the crowd on recent events and planned expansions, saying, “We have been doing a lot of great things at UniTec Career Center this year. We had kids get back from a world robotics tournament in Dallas.

“We had two teams and an adult team that are MAC students that were UniTec students. We had a 17th place finish, a 30th place finish and a sixth place finish. It was a really good learning experience for some of these kids — some of whom had never been out of St. Francois or Washington County. All six we took with us fundraised their own money for this trip. All six had never been on an airplane before.”

Cauley said that those teams also qualified for the national tournament that will be held next month in Atlanta. However, he was not sure how many of them are going to be able to attend the event.

He then went on to talk about the expansion project.

“I’ve written and received a $118,300 grant,” he said. “… We set out to construct an 8,000-square-foot facility to assist us in expansion in a couple of different programs — whether it be welding, construction or powersports, and probably some things with robotics.”

The grant was matched by several businesses and other entities in the area. Cauley noted that he has received information from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education informing him that a second round of funding may be available in October.

“That will allow us to hopefully apply for and receive that,” he said. “When all our pledges come in, we will be about $25,000 over where we needed to be, so we will roll that into phase II. That’s going to be a big help to our students and staff.”

According to Cauley, mock interviews were held April 20.

“Every single senior in our construction class received a union job offer right out of high school,” he said. “Some will take that, a couple of them won’t [because] they’re going into the military, and a couple are going to MAC or Ranken or different places.”

Farmington High School business teacher Christy Pierce leads the new INCubatoredu program that just finished its first year.

“INCubatoredu is a program based out of Chicago,” she said. “It started six to seven years ago and is a real-life Shark Tank-style program in our business department. We are the first school in the state of Missouri to use it. The 12 students that had embarked on this mission this year are the first 12 in the state.

“That means that I couldn’t be more proud of them because I didn’t know what I was doing and they didn’t know what they were doing, but the way those students did in the final pitch was remarkable. I chose these students based upon grades, referrals and commitments. But to say they were motivated to stay with it and to give the hard work to create three operating businesses this year — there’s no words to explain that.”

Business teacher Christy Pierce is the INCubatoredu instructor at Farmington High School and discussed their first year.

Business teacher Christy Pierce is the INCubatoredu instructor at Farmington High School and discussed their first year.

Pierce said that starting three businesses in only nine months would be unheard of in the outside world.

“But they did it. To watch the progression of each one of them, they are all three drastically different. To see them pivot and shift throughout the school year was just amazing.”

The final “pitch” of the program was held May 11 in Truman Auditorium. There, the students pitched their businesses to a board of directors or “sharks.” The board of directors was made up of Matt Sebastian from First State Community Bank; Jamie Strange of Belgrade State Bank, and David Scism from Sam Scism Ford. After they made their pitches, the board asked students questions about their businesses and selected a winner from the three businesses.

The winner, HonorRollEDU, a tutoring placement program, took first place with an award of $2,000. The two other programs, PartyNow!, a party supply company and Taffeine, a natural caffeine taffy candy, were awarded $500 each.

“This program is highly based on community involvement,” Pierce said. “We had mentors, the board of directors, CPAs, attorneys, software developers and small business owners.”

Dr. Joe Gilgour, president of Mineral Area College, ended the meeting by going over the colleges successes and current expansions.

“We had our golf team, track team and esports team competing at national tournaments a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “We have a new soccer field on campus, it’s massive. Our first game on it is Sept. 7.”

Dr. Joe Gilgour, president of Mineral Area College, goes over the school's current successes and recent expansions during the chamber's business and community luncheon for May.

Dr. Joe Gilgour, president of Mineral Area College, goes over the school’s current successes and recent expansions during the chamber’s business and community luncheon for May.

The biggest expansions at MAC are the technical education additions being made with the help of state funding.

“We had a really good year at the state level as far as funding goes,” Gilgour said. “We were able to secure $11.2 million in state funding overall. That’s the most state funding MAC has ever had in a single year. Ten million of that goes to our new technical building. It’s an 80,000 square foot Industry and Technology Center that costs about $17 million and we have $15 million total.

“Two areas that are already constructed, the HVAC building is not open yet. It’s empty right now, but it’s on campus. Another one is the William Dickerson Welding Technology Center.”

The welding center has been completed and MAC held an open house on campus later that day.

“Lastly is an update on our expansion geographically,” Gilgour said. “We recently became the community college service provider for Cape Girardeau County. We are in the process of putting a site in Cape Girardeau. There’s a building ready for us and about 200 students ready for us as well. Anytime you open a new site, you have to get approval from the state. They are in the public comment phase.

“MAC received 141 positive public comments of support representing thousands of people. There were eight unions in there, all the superintendents of the schools, lots of business and industry. We did have one letter of rejection, but we are working through that now. We are hoping to have approval by sometime in June and hopefully open up our campus in the fall.”

Jeff Cauley, director of UniTec Career Center, speaks at the May Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce Business and Community Luncheon.

Jeff Cauley, director of UniTec Career Center, speaks at the May Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce Business and Community Luncheon.

Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at

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