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National Tire Research Center a big investment in jobs, research

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s new National Tire Research Center that opened Wednesday at the Virginia Motorsports Technology Park on the campus of Alton’s VIRginia International Raceway represents an investment of more than $30 million and brings with it the expectation of 186 jobs at its operational peak.

Dr. Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, said the facility, the “Flat-Trac LTRe” machine that measures tire performance, which was custom-built for the center by MTS Systems, and funding for facility operations represents a major investment for Virginia Tech, General Motors and others involved.

According to Dingus, the building represents a $15 million investment, the tire testing machine has a price tag of $11.2 million and the operations component is an approximate $4 million investment, making a total of $30.2 million.

Further investments will be made in the future.

“We already have plans to add machines with our partner, General Motors, and others,” Dingus noted.

Dingus said the NTRC will provide 186 direct and indirect jobs for this area of Southside Virginia when it reaches its peak.

“There will be 93 (people) who will work here within the next few years,” Dingus pointed out.

“Economic development numbers say that will help the community gain another 93 jobs.”

Seven people are employed at the NTRC now, and that number is expected to swell to 15 in January.

“We’ve got open positions right now and more starting up all the time,” Dingus said.

“We already have top-notch people from all around the country who are moving here, and we will also hire some local people and are already starting to do so.

“This facility and the one next door (The Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion Laboratory) will eventually be running three shifts,” he added.

“There will be lots of opportunity for local people to get jobs.”

Officials from Virginia Tech, General Motors and VIRginia International Raceway, with a number of area economic development, business, community and political leaders on hand, cut the ribbon Wednesday afternoon to open the NTRC facility and unveil the “Flat-Trac LTRe” tire testing machine.

With the Southern Virginia Vehicle Motion Laboratory (SoVa Motion), which houses an eight-post test rig, wheel force transducers and simulator lab next door and the VIR road race course adjacent to the facility, the National Tire Research Center moves VIR a step closer to becoming a “one-stop shop” for vehicle and tire testing.

“We’re building up a one-stop shop for vehicle manufactures to come test their cars and to test tires on their cars here at VIR,” explained Dingus.

“Doing it on the campus of VIR is a big plus. You can test cars on the rigs, you can test tires on this machine, and then you can go out and validate data and your modeling on the actual race course.”

General Motors Executive Director, Global Vehicle Performance, Safety, Proving Grounds and Test Labs Ken Morris said the one-of-a-kind facility represents a huge opportunity to move General Motors forward into the future.

General Motors is paying for several years of facility use in advance and is guaranteeing that its suppliers will test at the facility for the next 20 years.

“As far as I understand, this is a one-of-a-kind machine,” Morris said of the new tire testing machine.

“The capability of this machine is unmatched by anything that we could go out and rent or rent time on. It’s making sure that we get the best stopping distance with the best fuel economy with the best grip so that we can have all around tires and vehicles that customers will enjoy buying.”

Morris said GM feels good about its 20-year commitment to the NTRC.

“We’re going to test our tires here for 20 years, and things won’t get less competitive 20 years from now,” Morris said.

“I don’t know that we will be leaving here anytime soon after that.”

VIRginia International Raceway Co-Owner and Managing Partner Connie Nyholm says the project is “a huge leap forward for VIR.”

“It helps us diversify our business model,” Nyholm explained.

“Once we get the tire center up and operating come the new year and get some good electrical load data, we can then estimate what we need to do utility-wise for future labs here. General Motors wants to support additional labs here as they have made a 20-year commitment to do all of their testing at the tire center. The SoVa Motion lab is busier than it’s ever been with new prospects on the way.

“That can only mean more real estate development and jobs created here in Southern Virginia,” she added.

The NTRC was created in 2010 through a collaborative effort led by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that involved the Virginia Tech Department of Mechanical Engineering, the Institute For Advanced Learning And Research, General Motors and the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission, which provided a $5 million grant for the NTRC.

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