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Ground broken for $11 million TCAT campus

Patience Hylton (in red jacket) stands beside TCAT President Dwight Murphy during Friday’s groundbreaking cer- emony of the new $11 million TCAT/Roane State campus in the I-75 Industrial Park in Clinton. (photo:Tony Cox )
Anderson County resident Patience Hylton will be a certified welder once she graduates from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in August 2019.

Hylton is originally from Liberia. Her American parents, Mike and Amy Hylton, adopted her at the age of 7. Unable to read, write, or count to 10, Amy homeschooled her until ninth grade.

Her academic counselor suggested welding when she signed up for her elective at Anderson County High.

“I chose to take welding, even though I didn’t know what welding was,” she told a large group gathered together to celebrate the groundbreaking at TCAT’s newest location. “I took it all four years of high school.”

She quickly fell in love with it. She was unsure of how to make welding a full-time career, but representatives from TCAT came to the school one day and told her about their welding program.

“I signed up immediately, because I knew that was what I wanted to do,” Hilton said. She is taking classes at the temporary facility in Norris.

Her story is exactly why Anderson County officials, business and education leaders and the state are celebrating the groundbreaking for the new 44,000 square-foot TCAT/Roane State campus beside SL Tennessee in Clinton. The project will cost around $11 million.

The prime industrial land was donated by SL Tennessee, operated by Woo Hyun Son and Scott Laska.

The TCAT-Knoxville campus is at capacity, according to Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank.

“There’s no place to park,” she said. “There is a need in our area.”

The waiting list for TCAT is very long, with many Anderson County residents on that list.

“We have a lot of industries that need a skilled workforce,” Frank explained.

While Anderson County, and Clinton in particular, has had a boom in industry over the past decade, there is a gap when it comes to skilled workers.

That’s something Frank and others hope to change. There is a lack of skilled workers throughout the nation, according to a previous interview with Anderson County Chamber of Commerce Director Rick Meredith. Build a skilled labor workforce and the industry will follow.

This is something Frank has wanted to do since she was first elected mayor. It’s an enormous project – every county in Tennessee wants a TCAT extension, according to TCAT President Dwight Murphy.

“This will be the greatest recruiting tool for industry in the county,” he said. “It’s going to keep Anderson County folks home and prepare folks to go into the industry.”

It was a true community effort, according to Murphy. Former director of Anderson County Schools Larry Foster, President of Anderson County Economic Development Association Tim Thompson, Meredith and Frank spearheaded the effort, according to Murphy.

“We had days we didn’t think this was going to work,” Murphy said. “These folks led the pack.”

Jeff Hensley and his family stepped up and offered their empty building — formerly the Hensley’s IGA — near Norris Freeway for the school.

The school will offer courses in allied health training through Roane State, as well as industry specific skills like welding, mechatronics, automotive technology, machine tool and more.

The Anderson County Coalition —which includes the Chamber of Commerce, the Anderson County Education Foundation, SL Tennessee, the City of Clinton and the City of Norris and many others — was awarded the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Philanthropy for their efforts in getting the school to Anderson County.

“The cooperation and partnerships that it took to make this new facility possible are historic in nature and will go on to serve as inspiration for future accomplishments in years to come,” said Frank.