“I want to welcome you to a glimpse of modern manufacturing,” said Jeff Frazier, dean of the RCAM (Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing).
Frazier and Northeast State Community College interim President James King, who emphasized the dual enrollment opportunities the new facility would provide, were among speakers at the unveiling of the 15,000-square-foot building. It was designed by architect Don Solt and built by Quesenberry’s Construction of Big Stone Gap at a cost of $2.5 million and $1 million in equipment, Frazier said.
Funding came from the state as well as the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, which is made up of Kingsport, Eastman Chemical Co., NSCC, Domtar and the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
Also speaking was Jeff McCord, NSCC vice president of workforce development, who said the RCAM and RCAM Academy, nicknamed “RCAM Jr.,” are not just about facilities and equipment.
“It’s about the people and the processes,” McCord said.
Mayor John Clark said, “This facility, RCAM Academy, is, I think, crucial to our success.” Clark noted it helps students receive certifications before or after high school, which will grow the region’s workforce and support Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 and Tennessee Reconnect programs.
“The future of our region, the future of our economy, rests on facilities like this,” said Miles Burdine, a Tennessee Board of Regents member and head of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce.
He stressed that the region’s youth need to hear the news about the RCAM. “Our young people have to know about these efforts.”
Anita Campbell, RCAM program and services coordinator, said the new facility includes a machine tools area on the first floor. Upstairs facilities include a hydraulics area as well as a Design Thinking lab that includes 3-D printers.
As part of the annual eighth-grade Career Expo sponsored by Eastman Chemical Co., students from the region got a look at various occupations at the RCAM facilities, throughout the Academic Village downtown and in Oak Ridge National Laboratories trailers at the nearby Farmers Market.
Iliff McMahan Jr., regional director of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, said the RCAM has been a stop for all three economic development commissioners who have served over the past seven years of the Haslam administration. “This is a state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind facility,” McMahan said, adding that the whole Academic Village is a jewel in education, training and workforce development.
Domtar’s Ron Nussman said the RCAM site was home to a pallet and wood shop and construction contractor buildings when he came to the paper plant in 1991. He also said the plant, under different ownership, had 75-year-old papermaking equipment but now is the most advanced papermaking facility in North America, thanks in part to a “pipeline of a good, skilled workforce” from the RCAM.
Eastman engineer Cari Parker said the chemical and fibers maker has worked with and benefitted from RCAM since 2009. She credited workers trained and certified there with helping restart the coal gasification facility that had to be rebuilt following an explosion last October.
Also Friday, McCord presented an award to longtime Advanced Manufacturing Partnership head Linda Lewis, an Eastman engineer.