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New Jersey operation relocates headquarters in Halifax County

An international training and research center has selected Riverstone Technology Centre as its new home.

The American Wood Finishing Institute (AWFI), LLC is relocating its corporate headquarters and training center from New Jersey to Halifax County and will create 15 new jobs in addition to those employees that relocate to the county, Industrial Development Authority  (IDA) officials announced in a release Friday.

AWFI will run and operate the Center for Coatings and Application Research and Education (C-CARE) working with the Riverstone Energy Center.

According to Halifax County IDA Executive Director Mike Sexton, “This project is a unique partnership between the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC), University of Virginia, Riverstone Energy Center, the IDA, the private sector and others and represents a significant advancement in training and establishing the region as a hub for new and emerging finishing technology.”

IDA Development Director Patsy Vaughan said AWFI will upfit the area of Riverstone Centre known as the “high-bay” area at an estimated cost of about $1.2 million with approximately $1.1 million in new equipment also to be installed in the facility.

Vaughan said the Virginia Tobacco Commission assisted in the project with funding as did the Halifax County Board of Supervisors.

The purpose of C-CARE facility is to create a unique research, development and training environment for various industries that use woods, plastics and metals in their operations, Sexton explained.

In addition, a work-force training program is being developed in partnership with the SVHEC to provide coating and finishing certification programs for incumbent workers and new recruits.

The goal is to establish a “one-stop-shop” that identifies and helps commercialize solutions in the surface engineering field as well as provide a high-quality workforce in related areas, Sexton explained.

“Surface engineering” is concerned with how wood, metal, composite and other surfaces can be coated, treated or otherwise finished to proved specific performance, appearance and/or sustainability characteristics.

Sexton said C-CARE and AWFI will leverage the modeling and simulation equipment in the Riverstone Energy Center and the investment being made at Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) to use a dedicated lab for research, development and workforce development.

“Many manufacturing companies encounter surface engineering issues in the course of doing business. They may need contractual research and development in labs using specialty equipment; independent testing services – either using simulation/modeling techniques or the actual physical materials; training for new or incumbent employees; expertise to consult about a particular technical challenge,” Sexton said.

“These needs are currently solved in a piecemeal way by a number of companies. Although most manufacturers encounter all of the needs, no center with all the needed capabilities currently exists in the U.S.,” said Riverstone Energy Center Executive Director Doug Corrigan.
“This is an exciting way for us to make use of our technology and investment that was never envisioned when the energy center was conceived,” he added.

AWFI was established by entrepreneur and industrial wood finishing expert, Phil Stevenson who has been active in the wood finishing industry since 1980.

As the owner of PRO FINISH, his own operation, and while working with major manufacturer Conestoga, he honed his skills in process training and new product development for the specialty finishes industry.

Stevenson is one of USA’s leading authorities on the research, development and evaluation of cutting-edge coating technologies.

Over a period of 20 years, he interacted with hundreds of managers and finishing pros in the furniture, cabinetry and millwork industries.

Stevenson founded the American Wood Finishing Institute in 2000.

The AWFI state-of-the-art facility housed in Riverstone Centre, is the first of its kind: a hands-on learning environment, a safe place to experiment with new equipment and techniques, and a place for finishing professionals to plan their careers and business growth.

In addition to managing day-to-day operations, Stevenson serves as the finishing process instructor at the AWFI and is in demand as a consultant and corporate training leader throughout the U.S. and abroad.

He is also the author of the “Ask Phil” column in Finishing magazine.

AWFI was introduced to SVHEC during the Association of Woodworking and Furnishings Suppliers Show (AWFS) competition in Las Vegas, where SVHEC students won first place with their entry “The Chair.”

Kenneth (Kenny) Stephenson, business development director, said, “David Kenealy, director of research and development at SVHEC visited our booth, and we started talking, and it was a breath of fresh air. We (Phil and Kenny) made a visit to Halifax County after the show and met with Dr. Betty Adams and the rest of the SVHEC leadership team, and it was pretty obvious, pretty quickly that this was the right type of organization to get involved with.”

Stephenson said their team visited with a number of community colleges and universities from across the country before selecting SVHEC.

Gladys (Gladdy) Hampton, grant writer and administrator for AWFI, added, “Kenny and Phil came back from their visit to Halifax County raving about the SVHEC, Riverstone Energy Center and the community, and it just sounded like a great fit. I came down for a visit last winter, and I liked it very much. I liked the community and the people. It made me feel good!”

Stephenson continued, “When you’re trying to move a number of different families you have to find somewhere that makes sense. In our last meeting with the IDA they asked us why we wanted to do AWFI in Halifax County. For us, it really came down to the people and the can-do attitude.”

The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) transforms applied research into business advantages from its base in Prince George County at Crosspointe Centre. It brings together best-in-class manufacturers and Virginia’s flagship research institutions (University of Virginia and Virginia Tech) to collaborate and deliver new “production-ready” solutions to factories.

Industrial members lead the center, determining and guiding research priorities. And unlike many collaborative research models, CCAM members have full usage rights to all intellectual property generated through the center’s generic research program.

“We have high expectations of AWFI as they operate, maintain and implement all the activities that come under the umbrella of C-CARE and our growing partnership with CCAM,” Sexton concluded.