The middle-skills-focused Advanced Manufacturing Program received another $20,000 in funding Monday, thanks to a donation from Ruiz Foods.

Representatives of the frozen Mexican food manufacturer presented their check to leaders of the Advanced Manufacturing Consortium, which is composed of 30 area industrial employers taking part in the educational program, at Workforce Solutions Texoma in Sherman. The event drew administrators and employees from participating schools and businesses, as well as economic developers.

“We think this is a great program,” Ruiz Foods Director of Operations Mitch Martin said. “It fits with our mission to impact education in the community. It’s money well donated.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Program launched in 2016 and places area high school students in a series of classes and internships as a way to provide them with the skills and certifications needed for manufacturing careers. Students enter the program during their sophomore year of high school and take introductory classes on their respective campuses, before moving over to Grayson College full-time for more advanced courses.

In late June, Grayson College broke ground on its Advance Manufacturing Lab, which is intended to serve as the home-base of the program. Ruiz Foods’ contribution will go toward the $696,000 cost of outfitting the facility with industry-grade tools and machinery and follows closely behind the $20,000 donation made be Eaton B-Line several weeks prior.

Martin described the donation as an “investment” and one that he felt would make for a more agile and able pool of future employees.

“Most of the time, we’re hiring people that didn’t consider manufacturing and we’re training them right from zero,” Martin said. “With this, there’s some education and skill involved upfront, so it will be very helpful to get that leg up, so they hit the ground running.”

Advanced Manufacturing Consortium chair and Emerson Process Manager Plant Manager Mark Anderson met with employers involved in the consortium in late June and challenged them to raise a combined $200,000 by the end of 2017 for the purchase of more equipment. If participating manufacturers can reach $100,000 of that goal, Anderson said the Texas Workforce Commission will also chip in $100,000 to further the program. With $40,000 already in the bank, Anderson said the program was well positioned to achieve its fundraising goal.

“We’re doing great,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a lot of momentum.”

The program has already secured seven mills and lathes for it’s equipment collection.

“This will allow our students to train on the same kind of equipment that our manufacturers are going to have,” Anderson said. “A lot of times, when you go into one of these shops, you’ll see old equipment that’s been donated by the manufacturers themselves and that isn’t necessarily what they’re using now.

Anderson said he believes there to be more donations coming down the pike and that every dollar will help further the program and set the students up for success. The Advanced Manufacturing Program enrolled 12 students during the 2016-2017 school year but is expected to double its participation next year with 25 students.