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Saline County Career and Technical Campus hosts Inaugural emPOWER Arkansas Expo

Students check out the latest advanced energy production and storage technology at the inaugural emPower Arkansas Expo in Saline County.
Nathan Treece
Little Rock Public Radio
Students check out the latest advanced energy production and storage technology at the inaugural emPower Arkansas Expo in Saline County.

On Wednesday, the inaugural emPOWER Arkansas Expo was held at the Saline County Career and Technical Campus in Benton. The expo sought to connect energy industry professionals with students and potential employees in an environment surrounded by cutting-edge technology and training programs.

April Ambrose, Director of Workforce at the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation, spearheaded the event. She says she aims to make a contiguous pipeline from early job training to professional development and career growth.

“Our advanced energy industry is growing like wildfire,” Ambrose said. “Energy prices are not going down, they’re only going up. There are great opportunities for energy efficiency, alternative forms of energy production, and all of the knowledge bases that surround that.”

Lauren Waldrip, executive director of the Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation, says funding from the federal Inflation Reduction Act created a historic opportunity for the organization.

“We track funding opportunities not just in the workforce space, but across the spectrum of all of our different activities and sectors,” said Waldrip. “Now is a perfect opportunity for this work to be supplemented with those resources that are available to help us continue to be the leader in this space.”

The Arkansas Advanced Energy Foundation is also looking ahead to new technologies and markets opening up in the state, including the upcoming lithium wells in Southern Arkansas.

Beth Williams, a representative of Powers of Arkansas, a commercial HVAC contractor based in North Little Rock, praised the expo. She says this kind of exposure is critical to attracting younger audiences to potential careers.

“Before I worked for Powers, I was uneducated about what happened in the HVAC industry,” Williams said. “There’s a lot of growth in the building automation/smart building industry. We need [events like emPOWER] to expose it to folks so they see this as a career path because we only see more need from here on out.”

Scott Kuttenkuler is the Assistant Vice Chancellor for the Saline County Career and Technical Campus. He says the expo is filling a crucial gap in workforce education.

“There’s always this challenge that faces the people that need to hire and the people that need a job—there’s a gap between them,” Kuttenkuler said. “Events like this bring those two parties together.”

The emPOWER Arkansas expo hosted 20 industry partners and included tours of a solar array and a CDI Construction facility. Organizers say they’re already looking to build on this start for next year’s event.

Nathan Treece is a reporter and local host of NPR's Morning Edition for Little Rock Public Radio.
Seth Hooker is a George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship recipient, interning at Little Rock Public Radio from UA Little Rock's professional writing program. He enjoys (being seen) reading literary classics and one day aspires to write one of his own. He lives in Bryant with his wife and three daughters.