Lanier Technical College broke ground Thursday on a major expansion that will more than double educational space at its Dawson County campus.
"We're very excited to be here," said Russell Vandiver, president of the college. "We think it's a wonderful opportunity for the community, the county and the city of Dawsonville.
"It's also a great opportunity for Lanier Technical College and our entire technical college system of Georgia."
Construction on the $5 million expansion off Hwy. 9 north near Dawson County Middle School is expected to be complete within a year. Enrollment is projected at 300 students in the first year at the new site.
Local officials began talking about the need for a technical college in the county more than a decade ago.
Roger Slaton said an invitation to sit on the Lanier Technical College board was a good starting point to bring technical educational opportunities to the county.
"I believe it was in 2001 or 2002 when [then president] Dr. Mike Moye came to see me about serving on the board at Lanier Tech," Slaton said. "I told him then the one thing that I would want would be a campus, a presence in Dawson County."
The Dawson campus welcomed its first students in October 2005 in a building owned by the Dawson County Board of Education.
"I was on the board of education, and I discussed it with our board, and we said, ‘Why can't we let them have this building,'" Slaton said. "So we renovated it at the expense of $300,000 and leased it to them for $1 a year. That was the beginning of Lanier Tech to me in Dawson County."
When it became apparent the building was too small to accommodate the growing needs, the school board, Lanier Tech and the Dawson County commission each donated $100,000 to buy adjacent land for future expansion.
"Technical schools create the opportunity for business to come because they know they can get the workers, or at least, retrain the workers," said Mike Berg, commission chairman. "I'm real proud. [We] took a leap of faith ... because we understood the need for business in the community and training for future business employees."
Ron Jackson, commissioner of the Technical College System of Georgia, praised the community for its persistence and willingness to work toward a local campus.
"The facts are, the contributions that this community and the leadership that you all showed in this community made the difference for you to actually jump in front of a lot of other communities in Georgia that would like the same thing," Jackson said.
"A technical college campus in your community means you've got economic development viability, particularly to attract companies here and to keep companies here."
Programs that will be offered at the Dawson campus include medical assistant, certified nursing assistant, business administration, welding and cosmetology.
Automotive technology and electrical systems technology will also be offered exclusively at the site.
Kevin Tanner, chairman of the board for Lanier Tech's foundation, called creating jobs "the single most important issue we face if we are going to get our economy moving in the right direction."
"Ninety-percent of all Lanier Technical College graduates are working in a good, full-time job within six months of graduating," Tanner said.
"This is an impressive statistic and having a fully operational campus here in Dawson County will prove to be a tremendous asset to our economic vitality."
Will Wade, chairman of the Dawson County school board, said the college campus will also be a great asset to the local school system.
"It's going to help kids today and even tomorrow, and it's going to give them another opportunity," Wade said. "Right now, if you look out into the business sector, the majority of companies are hiring kids with degrees from technical colleges.
"For the employment to come back, for us to turn around the economy, this is just one key component."