New Valencia graduating class could hold area's tech future

By Julie Gargotta, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 02, 2016, 11:18 PM EST

Valencia College hit a milestone in Osceola County Tuesday. The school graduated its first class of students from the advanced manufacturing.

Harry Rivera, 57, was one of the 19 students who graduated Tuesday. Rivera received a certification in CNC, or computer numerical control, machining.

But, just three years ago Rivera lost his long-time printing job. The father of three started to re-imagine his own future.

“I started to think about a new path,” he said. “When I first started the program, it was like an epiphany.”

CNC operators create parts for high-end manufacturing industries, from automotive to aviation; they are one piece of an industry leaders hope to grow and cultivate in Central Florida.

Down the street from the training facility sits a vast patch of land.

Rebar juts out of the terrain and bulldozers sit idle. By next year a research facility for the high-tech industry will rise out of the ground.

Called ICMAR, it’s where they hope newly-minted grads with defined manufacturing skills can put those talents to work.

“I think it’s going to change not only Osceola County, I think it’s going to change the state of Florida,” said Chester Kennedy, CEO of ICMAR.

Chester Kennedy said the future research facility is based upon one found in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It will position Florida to be a key player in the emerging sensor economy, and bring tens of thousands of jobs.

“What we see in the future here is having this 300+ acre park full of high-tech companies that make up a high-tech corridor right here in Central Florida,” said Kennedy.

Rivera might be one of those workers. He’s confident he’ll get a job in the coming months. His son has even applied to the same program as his Dad.

Now, at the age of 57, Rivera says he’s living proof that it’s never too later to start over.

Rivera says he's considering moving past his CNC certification and getting a degree, hoping to snag a job with a high-end manufacturer, like Mitsubishi.

“Every parent likes to think that they inspire their children,” he said. “I'm starting a new career. It’s almost like starting a new life, really.”

As for the research facility under construction, it costs around $75 million, funded by Osceola County through bond sales. They plan to open it next year.

Valencia College, who runs the training facility, also said they received a software grant from Siemens, worth$ 63 million.

The in-kind grant will let students use the same technology which companies around the world harness to develop new products for industries, from shipbuilding to aerospace.