Wacker Institute opens; CEO: "We were impressed by the people we - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Wacker Institute opens; CEO: "We were impressed by the people we got"

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CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Neither President, of the school that houses it, or the company whose name it bears, has to say much to convey what it means to open the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College.

"Just seven months before this, this was a warehouse," Chatt State President Dr. Jim Catanzaro says.

"I was overwhelmed," says Wacker Chemical Corporation President/CEO Dr. Ingomar Kovar. "And wow."

They cut the ribbon Wednesday morning.

The $5 million Wacker Institute will train almost all of the technical workforce among the 650 people the German-based conglomerate expects to hire for Wacker Polysilicon North America LLC, its $1.8 Billion facility under construction near Charleston, in Bradley County.

The first hires, primarily lead chemical operators, are fewer than three weeks away from heading to Germany for six months, to complete their training.

Most bring more than a high school diploma to the table.

"You'll have a math and English test before the job interview," Aaron Frankhauser says.

Frankhauser spent six years in the Army, specializing in logistics and engineering. Wacker selected him to train as a lead chemical operator.

"You'll definitely want to brush up on your algebra," he says. "There'll be a lot of Algebra on there, a little bit of geometry."

"We had close to 5,000 applicants, 4500," says Tom Degnon, Wacker's Vice President for Human Resources and Site Services.

"We were impressed by the people we got," Dr. Kovar says. "We didn't expect it absolutely before, but we were optimistic. That's why we came here."

Wacker's Bradley County facility will involve distillation.

"But don't be confused with other forms of distillation which are well known in the state of Tennessee, " Dr. Kovar jokes.

The product is the raw material, polysilicon, that turns sunlight into electricity.

"We are not producing the cells or modules which you see on the roofs or on the land," Dr. Kovar says. "We are only producing the material that we sell to wafer producers, who then create the solar panels."

Coursework will concentrate in four areas: Chemical Technology, Chemical Lab Technology, Materials Technology, and Instrumental Technology.

The training will be "Wacker-specific", but the skills will be transferable.

"It's gonna help us in recruitment," Dr. Catanzaro says. "We're interested in creating a pool of people that are superbly trained at a world-class level, marrying the career programs we've had for years and years, directly to the industries themselves."

Dr. Catanzaro freely admits Chatt State and Wacker faced some critical juncture. But he says he's confident they've overcome the conflicts and challenges.

"Anybody who comes through this program, anybody with a degree from this institution, they are prepared at a world-class level," he says.

For those departing for Germany, the concerns are more immediate.

Aaron Franckhauser is single, with no children.

"I feel bad for some of these guys that are leaving their families," he says. "But it seems there's like a good support group."

He's ready for a role as a semi-tour guide. He spent two years of his Army hitch in the Bavarian Alps.

"They're just gorgeous," he says. "People are real friendly. Just looking forward to it."

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