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CHAMPAIGN — Eden Park Illumination, which makes ultraviolet light panels on the west side of Champaign, has tripled its staff in the past six months, thanks in large part to COVID-19 demand.

The employees there operate computer-controlled machines, analyze product data and weld glass together to make panels that emit specific wavelengths of ultraviolet light, including one that disinfects rooms without harming skin.

While CEO John Yerger said he’s been able to find employees, not all of them have worked out.

“There’s a bit of a not 100-percent success — not 100 percent stay and work out,” he said. “So with training and preparation, our yield rate will be higher.”

That’s the idea behind Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s announcement Tuesday in Champaign of plans to create two community college–based manufacturing training academies.

“It really fits perfectly with what the skills that we need are,” Yerger said.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity will provide a total of $15 million for two capital grants through a competitive application process.

The manufacturing training academies will be constructed in downstate Illinois, where DCEO Director Erin B. Guthrie said there’s a shortage of skilled laborers.

“A lot of people are having to drive 60, 70 miles just to get to an academy that can serve their needs to advance their career, so now the goal is to have this training a little bit more local for folks who can continue to up-skill and get access to these high paying jobs,” Guthrie said.

The DCEO partnered with the Illinois Community College Board to develop the training academy proposal.

Community college districts or coalitions of community college districts in downstate Illinois will be eligible to apply for the funding opportunity.

Guthrie said the funding will likely be awarded in early 2021.

“As we look at grant applications, we’ll look at a variety of factors, the type of training they’ll be providing, the location, their partnerships, how they plan to serve the community,” Guthrie said.

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