COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— Early Monday morning, Columbus Technical College began construction on a new Commercial Truck Driving Training Range. The groundbreaking ceremony comes as the national and local need for commercial truck drivers is growing.

This program offered by Columbus Technical College will allow students to get Class-A commercial truck driving license in as little as four to six weeks. President of Columbus Technical College, Martha Ann Todd, says their program will be relatively inexpensive for the student because it is covered by Georgia’s Hope Career Grant Program. She says cost for students will range from $50 to $100 total to get in the program, complete it, and obtain their license.

The demand for these certified drivers is high. The City of Columbus recently implemented a pay-scale study for city workers that was largely driven by the need to provide competitive wages to keep CDL licensed drivers in Columbus. Todd says this program, which she hopes to have up and running by October of this year, will do just that.  

“There’s a great need within the city government for the workforce that this will provide. We’re looking forward to being able to supply that,” Todd said. “But also, as you well know, throughout the state and nation, but particularly in Georgia, with the traffic coming from the ports in Savannah and Brunswick, there’s a huge demand for truck drivers at this point. We know the salaries are very attractive and really are of a level that will allow an individual who gets a commercial truck driving license to support a family and be very economically, financially stable and independent.”

Columbus Mayor Skip Henderson says this is another step in continuing to build that workforce here in the Fountain City.

“It’s broadening and deepening the talent pool. You’ve got to have people coming into that industry in order to be able to be competitive in hire,” Henderson said. “But in the other thing it means is there are people in this community that may not have a skill that is marketable. Well, this is a quick way for them to get the education they need to be able to support their families.”

Part of the land for this site was purchased by Columbus Technical College after being awarded a $1.77 million state grant, the rest of the land was donated by the Pezold Family. Once this program is up and running, they estimate to certify 350 drivers annually.

The location of this site was intentional. Sitting on Fort Benning Road in south Columbus, stakeholders and city officials alike are working towards attracting exiting military, veterans and neighboring Chattahoochee and Stewart Counties.

Ret. Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe says there is a requirement to upskill soldiers as they come out of their active service. Sitting right outside of Fort Benning’s gates, he says this location is optimal to doing just that.  

“Every year we’re going to transition 2000 soldiers into veterans on Fort Benning. Seven hundred of those will stay right here in the Chattahoochee Valley. Then, interestingly enough, another 400 are going to come to the Chattahoochee Valley from around the Army as they transition from jobs worldwide,” Ret. Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe said. “So that’s 1,100 soldiers to become veterans that enter our community and our workforce. The more we can do to make sure that they’ve got the skills required now to become immediate impact players in our economy is important. And that’s what this facility is faced to do.”

Columbus Technical College also plans on putting a Veterans Education Career Transition Resource workforce development center building on the property. That will offer additional workforce training opportunities like welding, health care, and some manufacturing.

In addition to attracting veterans, the site’s location in south Columbus hopes to attract residents of the area as the adjacent target neighborhood is a Qualified Opportunity Zone with poverty levels above 35%.

They hope to have the site up and running by October of this year.