In case you haven’t heard, Great Plains Technology Center will celebrate our 50th anniversary on Sept. 17 with several alumni and community events. We have been privileged over the years to partner with our schools, community leaders, parents, students and staff to create a successful model of learning, innovation and economic impact.

In fact, nearly 50 years ago to the day, on Sept. 18, 1971, the late U.S. Rep. Tom Steed dedicated Great Plains Area Vocational-Technical School. Steed called it one of the nicest, best equipped vo-techs he had ever seen. More importantly, Steed said creating Great Plains Area Vo-Tech was one of the very best things Lawton could do to upgrade its efforts to attract industry and jobs to the community. He was exactly right.

We are honored to have Congressman Tom Cole lead our Rededication Ceremony at 3 p.m. Sept. 17 in the Worley Auditorium. The community is invited to attend the ceremony, participate in a campus-wide Open House from 3:30–7 p.m. and enjoy a concert on the lawn featuring the U.S. Army 77th Band at 6 p.m.

Great Plains Tech’s success story actually began three years earlier as local civic leaders explored the possibility of creating a vo-tech as part of Oklahoma’s vocational system. Voters backed up that plan by providing two million dollars in start-up funding to buy 57 acres of land, construct Building 100’s east and west wings, equip 16 technical programs, and fund a staff headed by Superintendent Milton Worley. The original high schools that attended Great Plains Tech were Lawton, Elgin and Cache.

It didn’t take Congressman Steed’s words very long to come true. As Building 100 was expanded to add four additional programs, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company announced it would build its most technologically advanced tire plant in Lawton and employ nearly 1,500 associates.

While the tire plant was being built, Goodyear moved into the recently expanded area of Building 100 and began training its workforce. That began a 45-year relationship between Goodyear and Great Plains Tech, one that has seen Goodyear expand its workforce to as many as 2,500. Great Plains Tech has trained 100 percent of Goodyear’s currently employed maintenance technicians who keep that billion-dollar plant the crown jewel of the company. We are Goodyear’s preferred industrial maintenance training partner.

As the world changed and job requirements changed, Great Plains Tech provided computer training to tens of thousands of persons. If you learned to use the computer, you probably took classes at Great Plains Tech.

By 1987 Great Plains Tech created the Tillman-Kiowa County campus at Frederick.

By then we were serving students from 15 high schools, hundreds of adult students and thousands of part-time students.

While today’s Great Plains maintains its roots in traditional vocational classes such as carpentry, electrical, HVAC and welding, we also provide Public Safety Training in both Firefighter, EMT/Paramedic and Law Enforcement. We have one of the most complete firefighter training complexes anywhere between OSU and Texas A&M. Our staff has trained more than 50 volunteer and paid fire departments. It’s made a tremendous difference in rural areas by providing better trained volunteer departments and reduced homeowners’ insurance rates.

Great Plains Tech is also the region’s number one provider of trained health technicians, from Practical Nurses and Surgical Technologists to Pharmacy Techs, Phlebotomists and CNA’s. We also started Radiologic Technology and Respiratory Care programs and continue a training partnership with Cameron University today.

In 2000 Great Plains Vo-Tech changed its name to Great Plains Technology Center as our mission expanded to include services to business and industry. We are proud of our leadership today in entrepreneurship with the creation of the Business Development Center. Sixteen small businesses in one location, all creatively working to find the road map to success. As our business consultants help entrepreneurs create and grow their companies, we are witnessing the future of economic development.

Great Plains is recognized within the Oklahoma Department of Career Tech as a school of bold vision and a pacesetter in creating STEM programs for high school students in Pre-Engineering and Biomedical Sciences. And our SCORE high school dropout recovery program is recognized as one of the best in the nation as SCORE has reconnected more than 1,700 students to their high school diploma and marketable technical skills.

What does tomorrow hold for Great Plains Tech? No one can see 50 years down the road. Those visionaries from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s who imagined Great Plains Tech in those early years would be pleased at its achievements.

We are getting some glimpses of what we’ll see when it comes to training the workforce of the future to help insure a positive future for Lawton and southwest Oklahoma.

For instance, our Automotive Services Technology instructors are already training students to work with “driver assist system” technology. In another decade or so, “driverless” vehicles will be the rule and not the exception. Students are getting introduced today to tomorrow’s technology.

Industry experts say by 2025, in just four years 25 percent of all new vehicles sold will be electric, 50 percent by 2030 and nearly 100 percent by 2040. Great Plains Tech will adapt as we continue our relationship with Goodyear and the tire plant shifts to produce tires that must carry more weight because of the heavier batteries.

We stand committed and ready for the next 50 years as we celebrate yesterday, today, and imagine tomorrow. I hope you’ll join us on Sept. 17. Imagine what we can do together, in partnership with all three systems of education, to produce a globally competitive workforce and a community where generations to come will want to live, work and play.

Clarence Fortney is superintendent of Great Plains Technology Center.