Augusta Tech expands footprint into former dealership; automotive program to be ready to roll in 2023

Flanked by students in Augusta Tech's automotive technology program, school President Dr. Jermaine Whirl (left) and Jim Hudson, founder of Jim Hudson Automotive Group, hold an oversized $1 million donation check at Jim Hudson Lexus on Thursday.

By early next year, Augusta Tech’s new automotive technology campus will transform a former Walton Way car dealership into a simulated learning environment.

The school ceremonially accepted a $1 million donation for the project – originally announced in April – from Columbia, S.C.-based Jim Hudson Automotive Group, whose 10 dealership locations include three in Augusta.

“Anybody can sell a car,” company founder and principal Jim Hudson said in the showroom of his Lexus dealership on Washington Road. “It takes a really good technician to keep it sold.”

What was not disclosed in April was where the automotive technology campus would be located. Augusta Tech recently purchased the former Johnson Motor Co., a Cadillac dealer that closed its location in 2021 at the edge of the city’s Laney-Walker neighborhood.

Previously: Augusta National awards Augusta Tech $1 million to expand automotive training

Also: Another $1 million gift helps Augusta Tech's automotive program gain speed

Johnson Motor Co., which closed in the summer of 2021, sits empty on Walton Way in Augusta on June 22. The former Cadillac dealership will be the home of Augusta Tech's expanded automotive technology campus.

Hudson’s $1 million, coupled with a separate $1 million donation from Augusta National Golf Club also announced in April, will fund much of the construction and renovation costs to complete the new campus by the end of the year, Tech President Dr. Jermaine Whirl said.

A growing job market

The expansion of Tech’s automotive program comes at a time when in-demand repair workers are expected to possess larger skill sets to perform work on increasingly technologically-advanced vehicles. Electric and hybrid vehicles will be among the emerging technologies studied in greater depth at Tech.

About 69,000 openings for automotive service technicians and mechanics are anticipated nationally each year, on average, through the end of the decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Planning the new campus followed months of discussions with local auto dealers, transit companies and other industry stakeholders to gauge their interest in helping increase the auto-repair talent pool in the Augusta area, Whirl said.

The program also will introduce “OEM,” or original equipment manufacturer training, so students can earn certifications to work on certain makes and models of vehicles. Currently most OEM training is offered only in other cities or states, and there’s no guarantee that a worker who leaves Augusta to train will return to his Augusta job when training is complete, according to Whirl.

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It's not a new model

Turning auto dealerships into classroom space is new, but not unique. In 2019, Moore Tech in Memphis, Tenn., opened its auto technology school in what used to be a Honda dealership. Oklahoma’s Tulsa Technology Center opened a satellite campus in 2013 in an old dealership building, but the location offers non-automotive classes.

Putting Augusta-area students in the professional habitat of a former car dealership will contribute to another feature of Tech's new program, which will educate students on the business side of the automotive industry, for people who want to become sales managers, finance managers or owners of vehicle dealerships.

Tech's larger auto campus will be able to accommodate more automotive students from its Augusta and Waynesboro campuses. Tech automotive instructor Taylor Bryant said the program currently teaches 50-55 students who jockey for work space in one of the school’s 10 service bays in a 10,000-square-foot facility.

The new campus, measuring about 67,000 square feet, will have between 35 and 40 service bays, he said.

“It’s one of the biggest things to happen to our program in its history, and I can’t wait to see what we’ll be able to do with community investments like this,” Bryant said.

This article originally appeared on Augusta Chronicle: Augusta Tech's bigger automotive program revving up in 2023