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Pensacola State's truck school aims to ease driver shortage

Ground was broken last week for Pensacola State College’s new truck driver training facility at Santa Rosa Industrial Park East in East Milton.

“This is such a great occasion for us; we’ve been waiting for it for several years now. This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility that we’re very, very proud of, and it was a huge undertaking in a lot of different ways,” said PSC President Ed Meadows.

When completed in about 10 months, the $7.8 million center will replace the current location at Bronson Field, just west of the Warrington campus in Escambia County. It’s the product of a land swap between the school and Santa Rosa County.

“We have 15 acres here, and they have 15 to 20 acres at our south Santa Rosa center; where they’re going to have a state-of-the-art soccer complex,” said Meadows. “That’s going to be beneficial in a lot of different ways, and it’s much needed by Santa Rosa County. That’s also a good way to get parents and students on our campus at that site.”

The 13,000-square-foot facility will sit on a 15-acred site off Jeff Ates Road in the industrial park. It will offer commercial driver’s license — CDL — instruction in both classrooms and a driving range. Almost $4 million of the funding comes from a grant from Triumph Gulf Coast. David Bear, whose family business is the Lewis Bear Company, serves on the Triumph board of directors.

“We’re a beverage distributor; this is a huge need,” said Bear. “There is a national shortage for truck drivers — for certified commercial driver license drivers. Pensacola State College stepped up to create this program. This is a game-changer for our area.”

The Bear Company also donated one of the 18-wheelers to be used in the program. Also, a $1.6 million grant is coming from the U.S. Department of Commerce, as well as state and local funding.

Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole, who says the trucking school will be the anchor facility at the park in his District 2. He adds this is part of his district’s continued growth.

“We’re looking at a new sewage plant; we’re looking at $20 million-plus RV Park, we’re looking at growth in our industrial parks,” Cole said. “I’ve been on the [county commission] 19 years now, and to see all that growth finally taking place in District 2, it’s just phenomenal to have.”

“We’re getting people on the road; and that’s kind of what we were tasked with and charged with starting the program,” said Mike Listau, PSC’s director of workforce education. “And we’re doing that with this facility that you’re going to see over the next 10 months. It’s going to increase our ability to do that.”

He adds that they’ll teach anybody who wants to drive the big rigs.

“We’ve had people that have had some experience; but then we’ve had people with no experience," Listau” said. “Everybody in here — or at least most of you — have a driver’s license. You can imagine how scary that must be when somebody is driving a big semi for the very first time. And these [instructors] do a phenomenal job of training the people.”

So far, more than 40 students have completed the College’s truck driving training program at PSC, earning CDLs. With the new center, Listau says they’ll be able to increase student capacity to train more truckers.

The American Trucking Associations says the industry will need to hire about one million new drivers over the next decade, to keep pace with the economy’s increased freight demands.