Thursday, October 23, 2014 · 4:36 p.m.
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U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis listens to Dr. Jim Barrott during a tour of the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Wednesday. Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro and Dr. George Graham, left, listen. (Photo: Staff)

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis made a brief visit to Chattanooga Wednesday, observing facilities at Chattanooga State Community College that will benefit from $3 million in federal grant funding. 

Solis, who was appointed to her position by President Barack Obama in 2009, was led on a walking tour of the new Tennessee Valley Institute for Materials Joining and Training, created in part by the Department of Labor grant.

Along with 53 other institutions, Chattanooga State will benefit from the $2 billion designated by the government for Trade Assistance Community College and Career Training Grants. 

Solis was led on the tour by Dr. George Graham, director of the Wacker Institute; Dr. Jim Barrott, vice president of technology at the institute; and Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro. 

The secretary spoke briefly with several students involved in the program, which includes classes on nondestructive testing, ultrasonic testing and welding.  

"I'm sure you're going to have a job offer," Solis said to one student, who informed the secretary that he would be graduating from the program soon. 

Solis wasn't exaggerating. Because of a mismatch in available jobs in the industry and a low number of applicants who have acquired the necessary skills and certifications, the programs at Chattanooga State have had a job placement rate of 100 percent, leaders said. 

During brief remarks, Catanzaro described the possibility for placing graduates in high-demand, high-salary jobs as "exciting." Before introducing Solis, Catanzaro said he was "ready to roll" with the grant. 

"This is special for us, but it's also special for the United States because this is really one of those 'best practices' that will get picked up and passed around the United States of America," Catanzaro said. 

Solis, who also visited Roane State Community College in Oak Ridge on Wednesday, said the facility at Chattanooga State was a "testament of what can happen on the ground in America." The secretary also suggested that a "renaissance in manufacturing" was taking place nationwide and wanted to continue being "strategic" with how her agency spends its funds. 

"I'm glad to be here because this really puts forward in my mind everything that those of us at the Department of Labor and back in Washington really care about," Solis said. "And that is, first of all, making sure that we have adequately trained our American workers, putting people to work and making sure that their skill sets are appropriately addressed so that they can get jobs.

"I am not in a position to make an opinion today, but will wait until Friday when I am able to legally release what those numbers are," she said. 

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