FVCC gets $46 million — Award from German company announced during tour

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Members of the embassies of Germany and Peru take a tour of the Applied Materials facility Friday morning in Kalispell.

Due to some bad weather in Washington, D.C., Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was unable to attend a breakfast meeting Friday with ambassadors of four countries and Flathead Valley business leaders at Applied Materials.

That meant Montana’s senior senator missed out on the chance to make a big announcement — the culmination of his work in securing a software licensing grant worth $46 million for Flathead Valley Community College from Siemens PLM Software based in Germany.

FVCC President Jane Karas stepped in for Baucus in announcing the generous software gift,  which mostly likely will be used in the college’s new advanced manufacturing program. The software will allow the user to take a product from conception through the manufacturing process and help students become proficient with technology that is used by many of the world’s leading manufacturing, architectural and construction companies.  

“I want to thank Senator Baucus,” Karas said. “This software creates new possibilities in education and training engineers and will lead to excellent job opportunities. I don’t have the words to say how wonderful this is.”

Baucus laid the groundwork for the award when he met with Siemens during a trade mission to Germany in 2012.

“This software will help FVCC train the next generation of scientists, engineers, and business leaders right here in Montana,” Baucus said in a press release. “Siemens has nearly 300 manufacturing locations worldwide and leveraging their know-how and experience for Montana workers will help us maximize high-tech manufacturing jobs in our state.”

Karas said FVCC was most likely chosen to receive this award because it is one of the leading community colleges in the region and boasts a well-developed advanced manufacturing and engineering program, as well as extensive partnerships with the local business community.

She said that the process of figuring out the exact details for use of the software is underway.

Peter Ammon, German ambassador to the United States, said German companies have a strong interest in investing in and moving to the United States, but there often is a shortage of skilled labor.

“You have financial wizards and robot scientists, but you don’t have high-trained workers in sufficient quantities,” he said.

He’s working to pair community colleges with German investors, a project that in some states could lead to the creation of degrees recognizable in both the United States and Germany. German investors need more American workers trained to operate the technical machinery and robotic equipment found in modern manufacturing.  

“This is a new kind of employment that didn’t exist in the past that comes with technical progress and global investment,” Ammon said. “We’re always looking for places to invest, but America has a shortage of trained labor.”

Ammon said that in Germany, a tradition of apprenticeship has created programs in which people split their days between school and work, helping fill technology positions and providing a real-world education for students. Young people with apprenticeships on their resumes are usually offered anywhere from two to four well-paid jobs, Ammon said.

The Kalispell event, hosted by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce, was a kickoff to Baucus’ 2013 Ambassadors Tour, in which the four ambassadors will make stops in Kalispell, Missoula, Ovando, Bozeman, Three Forks and Helena, wrapping up in Butte with an ambassadors panel on Monday.

The ambassadors will visit Montana manufacturing, research and agriculture facilities, tour a ranch and meet with dozens of Montana business owners hoping to increase markets for their products overseas.

This is Baucus’ sixth Ambassadors Tour since 2004. Past tours have yielded concrete opportunities for Montana businesses. After Baucus brought the Chilean ambassador to tour a Montana ranch in 2010, Chile fully opened its market to American beef. During the 2011 tour, Baucus announced a $1.5 million sale from a Montana manufacturer to a South Korean company, the purchase of Montana cattle by the Colombian ambassador and a $500,000 contract with the Australian military for a Montana manufacturer.

The Kalispell event was held at Applied Materials not only because of its status as one of Northwest Montana’s biggest employers, but because of the company’s strong export market. Applied manufactures technology and parts used in the semiconductor, flat panel display and solar photovoltaic industries, with companies in Japan, China and Germany buying Applied Materials products.

“There are tools on the floor right now going to these countries,” Applied Materials vice president Bill McClintock said after the meeting.

He expects business for Applied Materials to grow into 2014 as sales continue to pick up for cellphones and mobile devices.

“If you have an iPhone 5S, the chips inside that were made on Semitool [a unit of Applied Materials] equipment,” he said.

Reporter Heidi Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or by email at hgaiser@dailyinterlake.com.

German Ambassador Peter Ammon speaks Friday at Applied Materials.

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