A training program at Barstow Community College that prepares people for jobs as heavy equipment mechanics at a rare earth mine in the Mojave Desert got a $100,000 boost from the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The board authorized the county purchasing department to increase its purchase order with the High Desert college so it can continue training students to be industrial maintenance mechanics.

Training is tailored specifically to preparing students for jobs at Molycorp, Inc. in Mountain Pass, adjacent the 15 Freeway and 15 miles west of the Nevada state line in northeastern San Bernardino County. The mine has ramped up operations in the last year in an effort to become a global competitor in the rare earths market.

In October, the county Workforce Development Department used $100,000 in federal funds to train 25 military veterans at the college for the positions, which pay between $25 to $37 an hour. Tuesday's action by the board authorized the county to use another $100,000 in federal funds to train an additional 30 adult or displaced workers.

"Mining is one of San Bernardino County's most important industries and Molycorp is in the middle of an expansion worth more than a half billion dollars to extract rare earth elements, which are critical to our high-tech economy and our national defense," Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said in a statement Tuesday.

The Molycorp mine is North America's only source for rare-earth elements, containing some of the largest deposits outside of China. The metals are used mainly in the manufacture of magnets used in numerous high-tech products, from smart phones to smart bombs. Rare earths are also used in the manufacture of hybrid and electric vehicles, energy efficient lighting and renewable energy products including wind turbines.

During the first phase of its expansion, Molycorp plans to hire 25 people every quarter until it reaches 200 employees, according to a report prepared for the Board of Supervisors.

Molycorp expects to be producing 19,050 metric tons of rare earths by the end of the third quarter of 2012, said Molycorp spokesman Jim Sims.

"We expect to increase the facility's production capacity to 40,000 metric tons per year by the end of 2012, although our precise production level at that point will be determined by the needs of our customers over time," Sims said in an e-mail Wednesday.

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