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When auto dealer Jim Ball would send his technicians out of town for training by General Motors, the costs added up, from travel, lodging and lost worker time.

"You lose a technician for two or three days, that's a lot of productivity," Ball said.

Now that training for techs employed by Ball and other area GM dealers is as close as a drive to Orchard Park.

GM has formed a partnership with Erie Community College called the General Motors Regional Training Facility, and formally launched it on Thursday.

ECC built a $300,000 addition to its Vehicle Technology Training Center near Route 219. GM is investing $1.4 million on the program, and will use the site to keep GM dealers' techs up to date with hands-on training, as required by franchise agreements.

Until now, area GM dealers had to send their techs to places like Pittsburgh, Albany and Tarrytown.

While it is a newfound convenience for Buffalo area dealers, the GM center should also provide an economic boost for the region, program leaders say. Auto techs from other upstate cities and Northwestern Pennsylvania will come here for training, creating business for area hotels and restaurants, said Paul Stasiak, president of the Niagara Frontier Automobile Dealers Association and an ECC trustee.

GM, through a contract with Raytheon, operates training centers around the Northeast in connection with community colleges. This is the fifth such center, in addition to a training "hub" in Tarrytown, said Anthony Levens, a Raytheon employee who is manager of the Tarrytown center.

"There is a very high amount of (vehicle) sales" in the region, Levens said. GM has a heavy concentration of dealers in Buffalo Niagara.

The new center fills a void created when a GM training center in Clarence closed several years ago, Stasiak said. When the NFADA learned GM was opening satellite training centers, the group lobbied for one here.

"We felt we fit the niche perfectly," said Stasiak, noting ECC already had a vehicle technology center.

GM's contract for the center is for more than four years, but Levens said he expects the agreement will extend beyond that.

An ECC instructor will run classes at the center. The college also benefits by picking up product knowledge from the automaker, Stasiak said.

For GM, regular training leads to better results with customers, said Rich Sheridan, GM's regional service manager for the Northeast. "The higher training numbers we can achieve, the better the customer satisfaction we will have."

Stasiak and ECC officials are also hopeful that the new program will lead to other college-industry partnerships. And Levens noted that in some other markets, other auto manufacturers have followed GM's lead in creating partnerships with community college training centers.


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