For the second year in a row, the USDA has awarded a Rural Business Development grant to East Central College.

“This is a very competitive grant and we are honored to receive it,” said East Central College President Dr. Jon Bauer. “We look forward to using the funds to help create more educational and workforce development opportunities in the community.”

The $56,606 USDA grant award will be used to construct an entry-level chilled water system to further develop ECC’s Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration (HVAC) program. The bid for the project went to Johnstone Supply in Bridgeton.

“Although regular air conditioners are very popular in residential projects,” said HVAC program coordinator David DeArmond, “larger installations like office buildings, hotels, hospitals and factories use chilled water systems instead. This purchase will give our students the industrial experience they need to work on these units.”

The chilled water system will be housed in the HVAC lab inside the college’s Business and Industry Center. It will be used in degree and certificate programs.

“The average age of an HVAC employee right now is 55 years old, and the need for a new batch of workers is growing. We can train students on state-of-the-art equipment in two years or less and get them into the workforce,” DeArmond said.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of HVAC workers is projected to grow by 14 percent by 2024, much faster than average for all occupations. The average salary in the greater St. Louis area is $52,590.

“Employers are constantly knocking at our door looking for qualified workers,” DeArmond said. “They come from more than 50 miles away in some cases.”