As part of the state and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office announcing over $28 million in awards around the state to expand its semiconductor and chip manufacturing industries, Valencia College received a $4.16 million grant to expand its Robotics and Semiconductor Technician program. Learn Robotics at Valencia College.
It’s part of $21 million in state funding headed to Osceola — $28 million total across the state — to expand the blossoming sector. Osceola County received $17.5 million from the state’s Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, to develop more technical laboratory space at the NeoCity technology campus. That came just weeks after announcing the details of a U.S. Department of Defense advanced packaging contract potentially worth up to $289 million.
Valencia gave a tour of the lab facility Monday to officials, showing off the capabilities. School officials say the funds will enable it to double the number of students it can train — up to 60 students per year now — to power the unique equipment used in the semiconductor industry. Graduates of the 22-week program then become certified for jobs that can pay $21-27 per hour. The course is divided into a 13-week robotics technology program with training applicable across many manufacturing and logistics sectors, and a nine-week specialized program to train students on the equipment used in the semiconductor industry.
Robotics Learning Factory
The robotic learning factory, located in the new Center for Accelerated Training building at the Osceola campus, includes a number of autonomous robots and a mock up of a “clean room” found at the Center for NeoVation, which companies like Skywater Technologies are using to manufacture tiny wafers that form the heart of the sensors and semiconductors that will come out of the facility.
Colin O’Driscoll, one of the institute’s instructors, said that students generally have no automation background, but will leave with the skills to work in the industry.
“We teach them the basics of the world of automation and build the semiconductor concepts,” he said. “We have students straight out of high school, into their 40s. Students learn together and develop their own skills to program the 20 different robots, operating and moving wafers around. At the end of the course, these students are comfortable with the technology.”
Two of the students O’Driscoll spoke of attended Monday’s event. Christian Lopez just graduated Dr. Phillips High School, and Jermaine McCoy is 41 and served a tour in the Army before coming back home to Kissimmee and entered the program via the G.I. Bill.
“I took a tour of the facility and talked to people already in the program, and it inspired me,” McCoy said. “I started working on cellphone towers when I left the service, but I never would have imagined working with machines and projects like this.”
“My high school guidance counselor suggested an accelerated skill,” Lopez said. “In high school I knew I wanted to do something in technology, but I wasn’t aware of this two years ago.”
Dale Miller, Skywater’s Florida Vice President said by creating a homegrown talent base for the technology, a Osceola “hub” for it, much like those in Silicon Valley, Austin, Texas and Albany, N.Y. can form.
“It’s exciting for us, we started working with Valencia on this early on because it has direct relevance with what we’re working on,” he said. “We’ve already hired graduates from this program and they are working for us full time. Our plan is tap into what Valencia’s created.
“It’s critical to develop a work force to meet our job of getting the Center for NeoVation to full capability, and we need the people to make it happen.”
The County expects hundreds of direct and indirect high-paying jobs to be created in Osceola County because of this investment. The according to a county release will, “Support the development of a state-ofthe- art, multi-use lab … This facility is critical to the technology roadmap for NeoCity, providing a unique asset to the campus that will draw established businesses and start-ups to the ecosystem.”
The NeoCity lab will be the fifth building at the growing tech farm that has “elbow room.” The Center for Neovation houses a microelectronics fabrication facility; magnet high school NeoCity Academy is in the process of expanding; a 100,000 square-foot office building was the most recent facility built; and the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility will also be built as part of other outside funding.
Osceola County and its partners were recipients of a $50.8 million grant from the federal Build Back Better Regional Challenge. Osceola, NeoCity, BRIDG and Skywater Technologies, partners in bringing in the country and world’s best nanotechnology companies to the area. Also in the running for a National Science Foundation Regional Innovation Engines grant, which could be worth ten times that.