Grayson College broke ground on its new manufacturing classroom on Tuesday with a morning ceremony attended by college leaders, area industries, architects and economic developers.

The $1.4 million Advanced Manufacturing Lab is set to open in January 2018 and will take the form of an addition to Grayson’s current Career and Technology Center. The 6,500-square-foot building will house large industrial machinery, classrooms and storage space, and will largely be used to educate students participating in the Advanced Manufacturing Program.

“It’s a very exciting day for Grayson College,” GC President Jeremy McMillen said. “To break ground on a facility that involves so many partners and invests in the future success of our community — it’s a really exciting day.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Lab will serve as the brick-and-mortar heart of the Advanced Manufacturing Program, which was launched at the start of the 2016-2017 school year and is meant to equip high school students with the knowledge needed to enter the industrial workforce through a series of classes and an internship. Organizations involved in the program include 30 employers under the Texoma Advanced Manufacturing Consortium, the Sherman Economic Development Corp., the Denison Development Alliance, Workforce Solutions Texoma, Grayson College and multiple high schools. The program accepted 12 students during its first year and is expected to enroll more than 25 young people for the coming academic year.

McMillen explained that the college will use its reserve funds to bankroll construction of the new building and said the investment is one that will benefit individual students and area manufacturers for decades.

“This is a project about building for tomorrow in Texoma,” McMillen said after noting $1.4 million is a lot to invest. “We’re investing in our youth and, for generations to come, this will pay off.”

Emerson Process Management Plant Manager and Consortium Chair Mark Anderson spoke at the groundbreaking as well and said the new facility will give students hands-on experience with machinery and equipment that manufacturers utilize. He added that such familiarity will allow students to hit the ground running when it comes time for them to enter the workforce and even enable them to earn higher wages and salaries.

“They’ll really be ready to go to work in a manufacturing environment where they’re going to have skills that allow them to not only hit the entry level, but to be able to move up within the companies,” Anderson said.

The consortium chair said the skilled workers churned out by the program will also greatly improve circumstances for manufacturing employers, whose workforces are shrinking as aging workers begin to retire.

“Any time you’re losing aging employees, you’re losing experience,” Anderson said. “So, in order to help fill that gap, if you can bring in people who have a manufacturing background, who at least have the basic concepts and understand, they can come in and make a big difference.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Lab joins a multitude of other building projects in the works at Grayson College, including a new residence hall, distillery and student success center.