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Vocational Training Center Opens in Larimer

Auto body shop owner will train budding mechanics in 14,500-square-foot facility
Friday, October 01, 2010
By Diana Nelson Jones, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mike Fiore and his son, Michael, expect Mike's Auto Body and Vocational Center in Larimer to be fully operational by early next year. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

Mike Fiore stood behind a podium Thursday morning, with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to his left, and said, “We finally got here.”

Mike’s Auto Body and Vocational Center — a dream that Mr. Fiore began chatting about with his son Michael four years ago — officially opened with a ceremony on the Meadow Street site in Larimer on Thursday. It will be fully operational by early next year, when Mr. Fiore expects to enroll his first class of mechanics for certification training, he said.

Mr. Ravenstahl called the training center the first substantial private investment in the neighborhood in 40 years. Mr. Fiore’s shop specializes in collision repairs and custom body work. He has run his business in Larimer for 40 years and trained young mechanics, but he had to take them off-site for some instruction. The new 14,500-square-foot vocational center will keep them on-site for hands-on and classroom work.

Mr. Fiore said he hopes 36 will graduate each year, certified in welding, spraying paint, diagnostics and other skills.

The $1.8 million project, with investment from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Small Business Administration and Fidelity Bank, will employ 10 people full time and has the potential to join other businesses in retrofitting gas-burning cars into electric cars.

Mr. Ferlo said that while multi-million dollar projects get most of the attention, “we never lose sight of the importance of small businesses and the cumulative total of their benefits.”

Tom Link, manager of the URA’s business development center, said small business is responsible for 70 percent of new job creation.

Mr. Ravenstahl said the training center “is a seed for future growth,” and that, with the new Target store being constructed nearby in East Liberty, “shame on us if we can’t figure out how to spread investment throughout the Larimer community.”

Meadow Street is a strategic corridor because it runs through Larimer and into Highland Park and East Liberty.

Mr. Ferlo, a URA board member, said the URA would like to buy several properties directly across the street from the vocational center in order to develop a retail and housing link.

Already, the vocational center has been used as meeting space for Highland Park neighborhood advocates, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Larimer Green Team and ward leaders.

Mr. Fiore said he advanced his idea to a lot of people and that many weren’t encouraging.

“A lot of folks said, ‘wonderful idea,’ and walked away,” he said. “But my son and his wife [Michael and Chrissy Fiore] were nonstop support. And Jim Ferlo. He kept after me through all the paperwork, ‘C’mon, we’re going to get this done.’ We’ll get through all the hassles.’

“And we did it.”

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