(TNS) -- COLUMBUS, Neb. -- Ron Haefner didn't think he'd be needing many boxes to make the move from the high school's automotive technology shop into an expanded version of Columbus High along Lost Creek Parkway and 33rd Avenue this month.

Local backers of Columbus Public Schools' transportation technical services program have been doing some heavy lifting for Haefner's students for a couple of years.

"We've had fantastic support from the beginning," said Haefner, noting that businesses were very helpful in talks to develop equipment and tool lists for the expanded program that will provide students with the technical skills they should leave CHS with to go on to college or right into the workplace.

"They told us the tech skills they need to fill up local jobs (that are changing rapidly with technology) and they lined up pretty well with what we're teaching," Haefner said.

Transportation technology is one of the programs at CHS' new STEM Academy -- science, technology, engineering and math -- that will offer pathways to the skilled, high-paying advanced manufacturing jobs available locally and around the nation.

The STEM Academy will offer programs in construction technology, machining, welding, logistics, mechatronics/electronics and drafting and engineering.

Haefner's focus in recent months at the new workshop/classroom was getting the heavy equipment anchored to the shop floor and hooking up the power. He's been busy recently getting hand tools, measuring instruments and torque wrenches and jacks in place.

"That's our furniture," joked Haefner.

The workshop, which includes 50 percent more square footage than the shop at the current high school, has six vehicle lifts compared to four at the school on 26th Street.

Students can bring in 10 vehicles to work on in the new shop, up from six at the current school, Haefner said.

Local automotive dealerships have been tremendous supporters, along with businesses such as Behlen Mfg. Co., Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland and others, Haefner said.

"It's been exciting and scary," Haefner said. "This will be the flagship program in the state when it opens. I think it will set the standard."

Local business and manufacturing leaders reached for their checkbooks to equip the STEM Academy.

Business and manufacturing commitments totaled $697,000, well above the goal of $600,000. Reaching the local goal triggered a $300,000 donation from the Sherwood Foundation in Omaha. Another $375,000 came from other foundation grants.

Achieving the $1.3 million in local commitments and foundation grants resulted in another Omaha-based foundation contributing $300,000 for a total of more than $1.6 million, school officials said.

Tony "TR" Raimondo of Behlen Mfg. and Jim Hellbusch of Duo Lift Manufacturing have been on board with STEM education for years.

Columbus is "really on a roll" with business and industries, along with K-12 education at CPS and partnerships with Central Community College-Columbus at the college level, in preparing pathways into good-paying careers, said Raimondo, a leader in the statewide Dream It Do It initiative.

"This is an exciting time for the city," said Raimondo, adding that the education and business community has been progressive in recruiting and growing the talent pool of highly skilled graduates of the school system.

Hellbusch would like to see the STEM Academy become a steady pipeline of skilled workers ready to step into high-paying manufacturing careers that promise to be an engine for the economy in the years ahead.

"My guys (welders on the payroll) are good, but it's always a challenge to find more to fill jobs," Hellbusch said.

The schools and colleges do a great job of getting kids excited about getting into certification and internship programs that land them careers in advanced manufacturing, the Duo Lift owner said.

"STEM has been a wonderful program for employers," Hellbusch said. "It's really been good to me."

©2017 the Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Neb.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.