Editor's note: This article has been updated with an additional comment from SEDCO Vice President of Business Retention and Expansion Stacey Jones.
Finisar announced Monday that it will donate $25,000 to the local Advanced Manufacturing Program, which aims to equip high school students with the knowledge and skills needled to land a job in the industrial sector. The donation was announced by Finisar's Sherman plant General Manager and Vice President Jeff Brown on Monday morning at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the production facility.
“It's one of the largest we've had so far,” Sherman Economic Development Corp. Vice President of Business Retention and Expansion Stacey Jones said. “We're excited because their contribution is supporting the program in all aspects.”
In addition to Finisar’s $25,000 donation, the Advanced Manufacturing Program has also received $40,000 donations from the local Emerson and Eaton plants since the program was created, but Jones said all the companies that have worked with the program have provided invaluable services.
The Advanced Manufacturing Program was started in 2016 and is an educational partnership between 30 area industrial employers, SEDCO, the Denison Development Alliance, Grayson College and the four high schools of Sherman, Denison, Pottsboro and Whitewright. The program allows sophomore-level students to take industry focused classes at their campus before moving onto Grayson College's Advanced Manufacturing Lab for classes as juniors and seniors. Students who successfully complete the program receive 42 hours of college credit and a nationally-recognized, Level-One skill certification. Roughly 40 students were enrolled in the program during the 2017-2018 academic year.
Finisar, an optical communications company, produces vertical-cavity, surface-emitting lasers in the former MEMC building off U.S. Highway 75 in south Sherman. VCSEL technology is used in a host of applications including facial recognition software, 3-D mapping, and automobile sensors. Apple has invested $390 million in Finisar and its VCSELs have been incorporated into its iPhone. Finisar said it has hired 200 employees to staff the Sherman plant, so far, and is set to begin shipping products by the end of the calendar year.
In January, Grayson College opened the Advanced Manufacturing Lab — a $1.4 million, 6,500-square-foot facility that serves as the central learning hub for the program's second-year and third-year students. The building offers numerous work spaces and classrooms, as well as industry-standard equipment on which students can gain experience and refine their skills. Machinery purchases have been made possible by an estimated $150,000 in previous donations from consortium partners and through matching grants from the Texas Workforce Commission and economic developers.
Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates told the Herald Democrat in May that industrial jobs account for roughly 15 percent of all jobs in the region. With an even larger percentage of industrial employees at retirement age, Bates said the Advanced Manufacturing Program is designed to meet current and future workforce needs.
“About 30 percent of folks who are working in the manufacturing field could retire right now if they wanted,” Bates said. “So this program is our answer to creating a pipeline of new employees. And I think these kids will probably have no problem at all getting a job. When they graduate, there will be people waiting in line to hire them.”