NAU breaks ground on a new hospitality education center in Mesa

Construction banner that reads "Mesa Workforce Development Center" with hard hat hung on shovel handle in the foreground.

The School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) at Northern Arizona University will soon have a new way to provide hospitality education in Arizona.

On Tuesday, March 19, the school broke ground on its new Mesa Workforce Development Center (MWDC) at Skybridge near the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. The ceremony included remarks from Regent Jessica Pacheco with the Arizona Board of Regents, NAU Provost Karen Pugliesi, Galen Collins associate dean of The W. A. Franke College of Business and representatives from local municipalities and business partners.

Ranked in the top 10 for hotel and restaurant management schools, HRM—which is part of NAU’s business college—will use the center to expand hospitality education access across the state. The MWDC has undertaken the dual tasks of providing HRM degrees to university students as well as non-credit and micro-credential programs and training to hospitality professionals in the community.

“The MWDC is poised to be a game-changer for NAU’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management as it opens up exciting new opportunities to impact the community in powerful ways,” Collins said. “By expanding beyond traditional academic programs, the center will enable the school to reach more individuals and make a meaningful difference in their lives, creating a ripple effect of positive change throughout the region.”

Groundbreaking speakers and affiliates in a line wearing hard hats and shoveling dirt toward the camera.The core tenets of hospitality—such as providing exceptional service—will never change, Collins said, but the industry must evolve to adjust to advancements in technology, evolving consumer preferences and external factors. That evolution is hindered by persistent shortages in human talent, necessitating innovation and a workforce with elevated skill levels.

“I’m excited to welcome the first cohort of students to the center this fall,” said the center’s director, Kathy Yeager, who noted that the facility is expected to be complete in December 2024. In the meantime, students can apply for admission and enroll in classes for fall, which will be held at a location near the center.

Once completed, the center will serve as both an educational space, with classrooms and teaching labs, including a kitchen, beverage bar and sensory lab, and as a community gathering space with a restaurant and a coffee shop that serve the public.

“The primary goal of the Mesa Workforce Development Center is to strengthen and expand the workforce, thereby improving hospitality experiences and the competitiveness of Arizona,” Collins said.

Jeff Theiss, assistant professor of practice for HRM, sees the MWDC as a bridge that will fill training and skill gaps in the local hospitality industry. “This project will be a win-win-win for NAU, the students and the community,” he said.

Although the MWDC will have the most immediate impact on those in the surrounding area, Collins anticipates its reach extending far beyond: “In addition to providing opportunities for individuals, the center will be a source for career-ready professionals,” he said. “This not only supports the growth and development of the Mesa community and surrounding areas, but also contributes to the advancement of the hospitality sector statewide.”

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Jessica Clark | NAU Communications 

NAU Communications