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Education designation adds fuel for job growth

A Center of Manufacturing Excellence is headed to the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center in South Boston.

The full panel of the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission voted to establish one of three centers of excellence in Halifax County Thursday during its meeting in Emporia.

Halifax County Industrial Development Authority Chairman John Cannon, who serves on the tobacco commission, commented on the announcement during the Friday morning meeting of the authority board at Riverstone.

“This is extremely important because it will train people for high tech industry,” Cannon said.

The Center of Manufacturing Excellence will be named the Southern Virginia Center of Manufacturing Excellence and will provide advanced and specialty hands-on training in welding, precision machining and industrial maintenance. Individuals completing this training will earn nationally recognized industry-specific credentials and certifications. 

Dr. Betty Adams, Southern Virginia Higher Education Center executive director, said, “This exciting development is on par with the 1986 opening of our first location in the 500 square foot mobile unit on the high school grounds. The specialty training that will be provided at the center of excellence is not currently provided anywhere in the state. We are breaking new ground that advances our region’s economic potential by equipping the workforce with high demand advanced technology skills.”

Southern Virginia Higher Education Center partners’ Danville Community College and Southside Virginia Community College will play critical roles in providing training in their specialty areas of precision machining and welding.

Using this “distributed model” of education, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center’s Center of Excellence will be able to serve 11 counties stretching from Pittsylvania County in the west to Buckingham and Greenville in the north and east.

 “Once again our community college partners DCC and SVCC are joining forces with us to provide unprecedented access to education,” said Adams.

Establishing regional centers of excellence is in response to a 2012 report by the renowned Boston Consulting Group. That report found the tobacco region has the opportunity to develop an advanced manufacturing hub focused on aerospace, automotive and heavy machinery. 

Along with the region’s current employers, Boston Consulting Group estimates an additional 6,840 job openings in manufacturing will occur by the year 2017. To meet that anticipated demand, the region needs to train 1,045 medium skilled workers, with welders, machinists and industrial maintenance mechanics being in the greatest demand.

According to Cannon, locating the center of excellence in South Boston has been a project he and other Southside representatives have been working on for a year and a half.

“It’s probably one of the biggest economic development engines we will ever have because what it will do is allow us to bring in industry that is going to feed Rolls Royce and other Virginia manufacturers down the road,” he added.

Cannon explained “the feed” will come from the community colleges and high schools and will be a three-legged school for precision machining, welding and precision maintenance.

“Basically what it means to a guy who owns a factory who is going to be supplying Rolls Royce or some of these other high tech industries is they’ve got to know there’s a workforce that can handle the jobs here, and this is a much higher skill set.”

Some $20 million has been set aside for three centers of excellence with the other two to be located at New College in Martinsville and another at an undecided location in Southwest Virginia.

“A bunch of people were going after this, and we just happened to be one of them,” Cannon said. “Through the leadership of people here 10 years ago, we put our place in the right spot, the sweet spot.”

To learn more about the Southern Virginia Center of Manufacturing Excellence and to review the 2012 Boston Consulting Group report visit www.svhec.org/sovacme.

In other business Friday morning, Halifax County Industrial Development Authority board members were introduced to the staff’s newest member, Lauren Tetterton, who mans the front desk at Riverstone.

Tetterton was one of 38 applicants who interviewed for the position.

Also Friday morning, Properties and Prospect Committee Chairman Chris Lumsden reported considerable prospect activity over the past month saying, “We hope we will be able to land one or two in 2014.”

Authority Executive Director Matt Leonard said he had discussed with legal counsel the possibility of trademarking the Southern Virginia brands recently adopted to identify the Southern Virginia Manufacturing Center (former Daystrom building) and the Southern Virginia Technology Park (formerly known as Riverstone Technology Park).

“It has some value and is not cost prohibitive,” he told board members. “We are now just working through the details with the legal staff.” 

Before adjourning, the board voted to not meet in August.