QUEENSBURY — After a century of adapting to the economy’s changing needs, the local chapter of plumbers and steamfitters union opened the door on its future Saturday.

When it was chartered in 1919, membership totaled 28, and they had a bank account balance of $23.54.

On Saturday Local Union 773 of the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters celebrated the grand opening of a $5.5 million training facility that has the capacity to train apprentices for jobs in building new facilities in Tech Valley.

“Wouldn’t it be great if those 28 members and pioneers of Local 773 could see how far we’ve come?” said Local 773 Business Manager Scott Martel.

The 18,000 square-foot training center is the first to move into Tech Meadows industrial park, at the corner of Luzerne and Veterans roads, near Northway Exit 18. Six other lots are available at Greater Glens Falls Local Development Corp.’s park.

For the grand opening event that including tours and demonstrations, the union was joined by various elected officials including U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh and state Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, Glens Falls Mayor John “Jack” Diamond as well as Mark Streb, a representative from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

Several United Association officials spoke, including Larry Bulman a former Local 773 business manager who is now the director of political and legislative affairs for the association.

Owens said 773 opening a new facility with state-of-the-art training equipment, including a 700-square-foot clean room area that apprentices use to train for working on building infrastructure for clean rooms for businesses, shows leadership in the region.

“They are leading in an area that I hear about all the time as I travel around the district, and that is to provide well-trained hard-working people for the unfilled jobs we have in our communities,” Owens said.

Many of the apprentices are working on building a new fabrication facility at GlobalFoundries in the Luther Forest Business Park in Malta.

“This is something that’s going to enhance the whole Glens Falls Warren County region because of the ability we will have to train those workers that are needed,” Little said.

She said a key to bringing companies and jobs to the area is having a trained workforce.

“And this is so critical to having that trained workforce,” Little said.

Diamond said the building would open the door for “further opportunities in the future.”

Glens Falls Economic/Community Development Director Ed Bartholomew said the membership of the union were the special guests at the ceremony since “the dues they collected have paid for this building.”

United Association Director of Metal Trades James Hart called Local 773 “the little local that can,” and said the union was an advocate for bringing chip fabrication plants to the region.

“It was hard to make a living out here,” Hart said of the Upstate economy after manufacturing plants closed. “But Local 773 never went away.”

Bulman said the new facility was the “last part of his dream.”

“It wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the members,” Bulman said. “This was my final goal as business manager to be able to do something like this.”

The apprenticeship program is very competitive, and it takes more than a year to get through the application process, said Torrey Gannon, who is in his fourth year of training where he’s learning heating and air conditioning, welding, plumbing, pipe fitting and more.

The new training center opened for school about a week ago.

“Unlike a traditional college or trade school, apprentices earn while they learn,” Martel said. “These individuals are employed by our signatory contractors during the day and report here after work three nights a week for three hours from September through April, and they do this for five years earning college credits along the way before graduating to journeyman status.”

Gannon said he joined the Local 773 for job security, but also found a family in his fellow members.

“I’ve always wanted to get into specialized training to be licensed,” Gannon said. “Once you graduate you can go anywhere in the country. You don’t have to worry about obtaining a job.”

Instructor Bill Austin said the new facility allows the 65 to 70 students to spread out and have more room for more training at one time.

For instance, the old facility on Bluebird Road in South Glens Falls had seven welding training booths while the new facility has 18.

There’s also a 185-seat classroom/conference room with a video and sound system.

The training at the new facility blends the traditional with new highly technical needs of industry.

For instance students learn orbital welding, needed for the pipes that run gases through clean rooms. Students also have access to a Medgas trainer for specialized skills for working with medical gas equipment and a virtual welding simulator device.

“We did most of these (training stations) (at the old facility), but you’d have to stagger it, where here, we can bring all the apprentices out and do one big group lesson,” Austin said.

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