The new $77 million engineering and energy building on UNC Charlotte’s campus hasn’t even had a formal grand opening ceremony, and already it’s fueling the local energy work force.
Johan Enslin underscored that point as he gave Governor Bev Perdue of the Energy Production and Infrastructure Center – or “EPIC” - which he directs. It's a four-story collection of laboratories bathed in natural light on the edge of UNC Charlotte’s campus.
One of the labs features a replica of the nerve center at Duke Energy.
“It’s real hardware - really what’s going to be installed in the grid,” explains Enslin.
“So the students are having an opportunity to work on the real thing,” nods Perdue.
The governor insisted on a tour of the EPIC building before she leaves office. She helped UNC Charlotte secure $77 million in state funds for the building and an ongoing appropriation of $5 million a year.
Energy companies with a presence in Charlotte – including Duke, Areva, Siemens, Westinghouse and Shaw – have added more than $17 million in equipment, donations and cash. The companies are also helping UNC Charlotte tailor engineering courses so students will be ready to go straight to work for them.
Shaw Power senior vice president Jeffrey Merrifield says five years ago maybe 5 percent of the company’s new hires came from UNC Charlotte. This summer almost half of them were from the school.
"And that’s because of the work that’s happening here at the EPIC Center,” says Merrifield.
“That quickly?" marvels Perdue. "It makes the cluster real."
The same is true of Areva – which now hires more grads from UNC Charlotte than from anywhere else, according to the dean of the college of engineering.
Local and state leaders have talked for years about building a “cluster” of energy companies to rival the importance of banking in Charlotte. EPIC is designed to keep the hiring pipeline at those companies full of well-trained workers.