Officials gathered Thursday morning to dedicate Lanier Technical College's new building in Dawson County.
Nearly a decade in the making, the close to 32,000-square-foot $5 million facility is off Hwy. 9 next to Dawson County Middle School and near downtown Dawsonville.
"We broke ground just over a year ago on this site. That was a great day because of the culmination of so many local people in Dawson County that wanted to make this happen," Lanier Tech President Russell Vandiver said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"I feel like we have been extremely blessed with having great leadership to bring this building out of the ground."
Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, congratulated Lanier Tech on the facility and the community for its persistence to provide local technical education opportunities in preparation for tomorrow's work force.
"I am very proud of this community, of Dawson County for this beautiful building behind us," he said. "This is a true testament to community and state partnership to make a building happen. And for all of you, my congratulations.
"You've got one of the finest technical colleges in our state. The programs that will come to this building will be a testament, I think, to the great work Lanier Technical College does day in and day out."
Lanier Tech began offering classes in Dawsonville in October 2005 at a building owned by the Dawson Board of Education.
When it became apparent the site was too small to accommodate the growing need, the school board, Lanier Tech and the Dawson County commission each donated $100,000 toward the land for a permanent campus.
Roger Slaton, who sits on the local school board and chairs Lanier Tech's board of directors, was part of the initial steering committee to bring a campus to Dawson County.
"Nine years ago Mike Moye, the president of the college, came to me and asked me if I'd serve on the board," he said. "I told him then that I would be honored to serve, but my intentions and my hope was to have a campus and a presence in Dawson County.
"Getting the building with the help of our local elected officials and our legislators, and realizing this dream was going to come to be, this is just a heart-throb for me to see that happen.
"It's just overwhelming to me. I came one day last week and walked through and saw the students. The halls were full. The classrooms were full. It's just a joy, just a pleasure."
County Commission Chairman Mike Berg praised the efforts of all involved and called the campus not only an educational benefit but also an economic driver for the community.
"This has been a great cooperation," he said. "We sat down a lot of hours working on how to buy property, how to manage what was going to transpire and we had total community input.
"In this economy, there's not many of these going in, and for us to have an educational facility in our county that can train people for jobs in our county and other counties, it is just a plus for us."
Ben Lively, a student in the college's welding program, agrees.
About a year ago, Lively, who holds a bachelor's degree from Georgia Southern University, found himself without any prospects for work in his chosen profession.
Knowing he could make a career with a technical degree, he enrolled at Lanier Tech in January and could complete his welding requirements by spring.
"I'm a four-year bachelor's degree graduate that couldn't find a job and I've always been interested in welding," he said. "The money's good and I have a better chance of getting a job with an associate's degree than with my bachelor's degree."
Lively now has his eye on the new Caterpillar plant that's opening soon in the Athens area.
"But there's also a bunch of other jobs available for welders in the metro Atlanta area, as well as the surrounding areas that I've been looking into," he said.
In addition to welding, program offerings at the Dawson campus include medical assistant, certified nursing assistant, business administration and cosmetology.
Programs for automotive technology and electrical systems technology are taught exclusively at the Dawson campus.
Slaton said as the need and student enrollment grows, more programs of study will be added.
Officials anticipate the campus to be near capacity, or at about 300 students, within the next three years.
Slaton said support provided by the Lanier Tech Foundation, which ensures students with the desire to attend and improve their potential in the work force have that opportunity, will play a role in increasing enrollment at the campus.
"The foundation is responsible for thousands of students coming to college every year, and with the cuts from the state, the foundation's support is so important," Slaton said.
"We have students who say they can't buy gas if they have to pay their registration fee or they can't buy groceries for their kids. The foundation tries to find enough scholarship money to get that person into college so they can complete their studies and get out in the workforce."
Chairman Kevin Tanner said the foundation is a proud participant in making students' dreams come true.
"To me, by helping someone get their education, especially a technical education, you are giving them a hand up, because then they can stand on their own two feet and they can get their own job, making good salaries and getting paid well," Tanner said.
"On behalf of the foundation, we're going to continue to work hard and make sure these students have the financial resources they need to be able to come to school and that finances will not be a roadblock in the way of the students' good educations."