Prince George County south of Richmond won the $170 million project, and a 180,000-square-foot manufacturing facility opened in 2011.
“(Rolls-Royce) looked at us and said ‘You all need to ramp up your training,’” Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City, said of one reason why Southwest Virginia lost the project.
That training ramp-up effort took a major step forward last Tuesday when the Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing (SVAM), its partners and stakeholders cut the ribbon on a satellite training facility at the Pioneer Center in Duffield.
In September 2014, the Virginia Tobacco Commission awarded SVAM first phase funding of $2 million to establish a Center of Excellence in Southwest Virginia to offer hands-on, industry focused advanced manufacturing skills training. SVAM was awarded second phase funding of $3.2 million in October 2015 to continue efforts to open and support additional training sites throughout the region.
Advanced welding training will be offered at the Duffield satellite as well as instruction to prepare welders for welding certifications.
In addition, a so-called “Fab Lab” has been equipped and supplied so manufacturers, entrepreneurs, students and the public have the opportunity to take an idea from concept to design to production with access to CAD/CAM software and equipment such as 3D printer, Vinyl cutter, CNC Lathe, CNC Mill and other equipment.
Across the street from the Pioneer Center is the Tempur-Pedic mattress production facility needing skilled workers.
“At times we have had trouble fitting in maintenance and electro-mechanical positions,” Alex Lupi, director of Plant Operations at Tempur-Pedic, admitted at the ribbon-cutting. “We feel this a great need for the area, not just for us as a company ... to bring new business and new employees to the area for companies and manufacturing.”
SVAM Board of Directors Chair Kevin Mumpower, vice president of Project Engineering at Bristol Compressors, noted the satellite facility has to be a model for the region.
“We’ve got to stop thinking about ‘We’re Washington County or we’re Smyth County.’ We’re Southwest Virginia and we’ve got to start thinking that way,” Mumpower insisted. “This is not just a training center. This is an economic development tool. We want to get manufacturers to move here. We want to maintain the manufacturing base we have. So this the key for that.
“We need to link middle and high schools for vocational training, and retrain workers coming out of the military and coalfields. This (satellite facility) is a big deal.”
State Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, advised each locality in the region has to be thinking about job advancement.
“This is a way we can bring the region together and compete for manufacturing and industry,” Carrico said of the satellite facility.
Kilgore, who chairs the Virginia Tobacco Commission, also indicated students need to change their mindset about how to enter the workforce.
“For too long we’ve told everyone they have to go to college and they have to get that four-year degree. That’s not exactly the case now in the world we live in today,” Kilgore said.
Mumpower said the plan is for the Duffield satellite facility to begin training this year. The main campus is at the Virginia Highlands Small Business Incubator in Abingdon.
“Once we get all of our instructors certified, we will hold an advertising and marketing campaign in the school systems,” he explained. “We’re talking about 100 (students) initially, maybe 10 to 12 in each facility.”
For more about the SVAM Center of Excellence or regional training network, go to www.svamcoe.org. SVAM is a non-profit organization headquartered in Abingdon, Va. The organization is focused on supporting and strengthening manufacturers currently in the region as well as welcoming new industry. For more about SVAM, go to www.swvam.org.