Since a recently released workforce study shows the need for an Advanced Training Center (ATC) in Lebanon County, the overarching question is who will make it happen.

That query was posed by Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce officials to community leaders during a meeting at their offices on Wednesday, Feb. 21.

LVCC president and CEO Karen Groh also reviewed the study’s four recommendations with the 20-plus attendees, which included educators, state and federal government officials and business and industry leaders. 

While Groh said she doesn’t have any firm commitments since the study is still new, she does have an idea of what it might look like.

“I think it has to be a public/private partnership, it’s got to be a combination of getting our regional businesses to understand that they have some investment in this, but it shouldn’t all fall on their shoulders,” she said.

There are other questions that must be addressed as part of who will take the lead on a project to potentially construct a facility where adults can obtain two-year program degrees across a variety of in-demand professions.

“I think the big question is, what does the model look like and the feasibility of location size, programs, etc., but that’s down the road a bit,” said Groh. “Maybe you bring the partners to the table first who then say, ‘We are going to look at the feasibility of where a facility might reside because we’re the ones who are going to take it on.’”

Groh said the CTC and the county’s six school districts provide great educational opportunities for community residents, but there’s still a gap beyond those efforts that has to be filled. 

“We want to be able to give those schools another resource for those students who are struggling with their next step,” she said. “We’ve proven there’s a gap in a two-year training program, there’s a need for it by our employers and there’s a need by our population, so how do we get there? We’re back to that question of who comes on the road? Who do we talk to? How do we make an actionable step (happen) next?”

Madison Colaco, a field representative for Congressman Dan Meuser (R-9), asked if any Lebanon County businesses had been approached to provide financial support for an ATC. Groh replied, “no.” 

“That has not been an ask, and I think it is one of those things that it is easy for someone to say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll put some money into that,’” said Groh. “But when you get down to the brass tacks, it might be a little bit here, it might be a little bit there but we’re really talking about millions and millions of dollars.”   

Former state legislator Frank Ryan makes a point about the financial cost of post-secondary education during a meeting concerning implementation of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce’s workforce study. (James Mentzer)

Former state legislator Frank Ryan said the “elephant in the room” is how adult students pay for two-year training programs like the ones that would be offered at an ATC, especially when most of the state’s education budget is funneled to large cities. 

Ryan, who is the chairman of Semper Finance Inc., said the governor’s proposed 2024-25 budget would send $500 million to Philadelphia schools, $125 million for Allegheny County, and $50 million to six other cities across the commonwealth.  

“Every effort that we talked about when we discussed it with the state about providing a pool of resources that can be used, invariably the person’s response was, ‘How do we pay this back?’ I would encourage as part of the outreach that you get some of those people who are the students, get some of the young adults in the program (involved),” said Ryan.

Groh said Hanover Research, during a year-long study in 2023 that was funded by Lebanon County, presented four recommendations as part of its 107-page report. 

Those recommendations are:

  • Recommendation #1: Create an Advanced Training Center in Lebanon County, based on population growth and employer perceptions of current resident skills.

“Despite Lebanon County’s strong performance in the labor market compared to surrounding areas, workers and job seekers face challenges in acquiring skill sets required for in-demand roses due to the lack of adult training centers within the county,” Groh read from the report.

  • Recommendation #2: Tailor ATC programs to teach the specific skill sets that align with top technical occupations in the county and employers’ most in-demand skills.

The executive summary for this recommendation states: “The most significant skills that align with top technical occupations and that employers want to see taught in a Lebanon County-based training center fit into the following categories: mechanical aptitude, electrical & electronics, machine operation, computer systems, forklift & crane operations, welding, plumbing, and nursing.”

  • Recommendation #3: Maintain regular outreach and open communication with the local business and education community to spread awareness about job opportunities in the county as well as ensure a comprehensive understanding of current industry trends and community needs for future program development.

The study made several sub-recommendations under this recommendation. 

It was noted that employers believe job candidates don’t have an awareness of and an interest in available jobs in the county, so there needs to be increased education about employment opportunities at local training centers and high schools.

This can be accomplished through “partnerships between businesses and institutions,” and states “more career development opportunities can be offered to spread awareness of potential career paths in the county.”

This recommendation further calls for consistent communication between local businesses and educational institutions to address the challenges of sustaining business engagement. To facilitate engagement, the study says LVCC should consider implementing structured collaboration programs with clear expectations and benefits for businesses.

  • Recommendation #4: Next steps for program development and funding.

Next steps include further program development, such as logistics planning and establishing consistency with the community, as well as determining a funding model. This recommendation addresses program development and how to fund them via grants, partnering with foundations, and initiating targeted fundraising campaigns.  

Noting that LCCC facilitated the study with Hanover Research, Groh said the goal is to pass ownership of this project over to another entity or entities to implement it. 

The study also analyzes six technical training centers across Pennsylvania, including the county’s CTC, as potential partners in the project. Groh recently told LebTown that the county’s CTC was a frontrunner for an ATC, but emphasized following Wednesday’s meeting that the CTC is one of others to be considered.

Additions to existing infrastructure in the county such as at HACC or the Lebanon County Career and Technology Center and potential partnerships involving Reading Area Community College in Berks County and Thaddeus Stevens College in Lancaster County were discussed.

Read More: Workforce Needs study recommends construction of Advanced Training Center

Meanwhile, the ultimate goal is to have someone take ownership of this project and make an ATC a reality.  

“I think we need to start having those conversations to see if there’s an interested party, of sorts, who might want to come in and say, ‘You know what? You provided the groundwork on this. You’ve proven the need. You’ve given us the data. We’re now going to consider Lebanon County as our next place of operation,’” Groh said at the meeting. “I don’t know who that is, but we can’t build anything from scratch, that is just way too big of a process. So you have to get some entity that understands what to do to seize the opportunity and understands what to do to build.”

Educators, government officials and business leaders gathered to address workforce needs in Lebanon County. (James Mentzer)

Near the end of the meeting, representatives from Intermediate Unit 13 and the Lebanon-based WEPA Empowerment Center offered to serve on a committee to explore next steps. 

Groh encouraged all attendees and community and business leaders interested in participating on that committee to contact her at the chamber office.       

Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.

Support local journalism.

Cancel anytime.


🌟 Annual

Already a member? Login here

Free news isn’t cheap. If you value the journalism LebTown provides to the community, then help us make it sustainable by becoming a champion of local news. You can unlock additional coverage for the community by supporting our work with a one-time contribution, or joining as a monthly or annual member. You can cancel anytime.

James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


LebTown membership required to comment.

Already a member? Login here

Leave a comment

Your email address will be kept private.