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‘Dynamic duo’ make the case for businesses
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Patrick Henry Community College President Angeline Godwin and New College Institute Executive Director William Wampler discuss their approach to help attract businesses to the area. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Call them the dynamic duo.

When new businesses look to locate to Martinsville/Henry County, or when an established business is considering expanding in the area, Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) President Dr. Angeline Godwin and New College Institute (NCI) Executive Director Sen. William Wampler are two of the first people that the leaders of those businesses talk to.

If you asked either of them why they’re a well-suited team to draw businesses to the area, each would first point out the skills of the other.

“Dr. Godwin is one of the absolute best that I have ever worked with as a subject matter expert,” Wampler said. “I’ve been at this game for over a quarter of a century, and we are very fortunate to have Dr. Godwin as the president of Patrick Henry. She’s some of the best tonic this community could have as we try to generate capital investment and create jobs. It should not come as a surprise that she’s at the tip of the spear trying to help attract industry to the community.”

“I could equally give Sen. Wampler accolades for being someone who’s been a public servant for 24 years,” Godwin said. “He has extensive relationships all the way through the commonwealth and beyond to bring to bear.”

Mutual respect for each other’s skills and experience is just one element of the formula behind their working relationship. When talking to them both, it quickly becomes clear that both are absolutely committed to joining their institutions to make Martinsville/Henry County as attractive as possible to prospective employers.

The emphasis on cooperation between PHCC and NCI — never competition — may seem like a simple idea, but it has a profound effect.

On Sept. 25, Eastman Chemical Co. announced that it will invest $40 million and hire 25 employees over the next three years to expand its infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities in Henry County and Martinsville. During the announcement, Eastman President Mark Costa specifically mentioned the partnership between PHCC and NCI as an example of “what we need to see in this country” to move forward economically.

“We didn’t know he was going to say that,” Wampler said. “We’d been working with management for the last year just to understand their needs and try to meet their needs, but we had no idea he was going to make those comments. It was a pleasant surprise.”

“That was my Christmas present — for the next five years,” Godwin added, laughing. “It’s that good.”

According to Wampler, he and Godwin have “agreed to agree.” If it makes sense to share faculty or training equipment between the two schools, they will find a way to do so, because the schools are stronger as a unified force than as two competing entities.

“We know it’s our mission to work together, but we need to demonstrate that to a prospective business,” he said. “We can meet their workforce needs no matter what.”

A well-trained, flexible workforce, both agreed, is the biggest draw for business that a community could possibly have.

When talking to business leadership, Godwin said, “workforce is the first question, the second question and the last question. Most everybody has a water line, a sewer line and a highway. If an industry comes to us and says, ‘We need this kind of workforce,’ it’s our collective responsibility to determine how to deliver that, and who is in the position to best serve that client. We are totally committed to the idea that the success of the student equals the success of the community.”

“What is consistent,” Wampler added, “particularly in advanced manufacturing, is that you must have a pipeline of students that can fill their needs, not just for today, but for the long-term.”

When they sit down with business leaders, Godwin said, the goal is not to sell them the community. The goal is to go into the meeting with an understanding of the company’s needs, suggestions on how to meet those needs and a willingness to listen.

“We do our homework,” she said, “and we speak pretty definitively at the table, but then we listen to what they have to say. It is really the power of customization. We come to the table telling them what we can do, and then they tell us exactly what they need, and then we tool that so that they can take our representation and literally drop it into their bottom line in assessing this community.”

“Having been in the game of trying to attract capital investment and create jobs,” Wampler said, “I’ve never lost the first prospect because the community was over-educated. A well-educated community with solid skills will attract more industry than just about any other tool we have in the toolbox.”

When they talk to industry leaders, both go in realizing how much good a new business could bring to the community. Do they ever get nervous?

“If you stop (feeling nervous),” Wampler laughed, “you need to get out of the business.”

“There’s a lot on the line,” Godwin said. “There’s a lot on the line for the community; there’s a lot on the line for these higher education institutions. It is very serious business, and we take it very seriously.”

The textile mills and furniture factories that once dotted the landscape of Martinsville/Henry County are largely gone, replaced in part with smaller advanced manufacturing firms that require dozens of employees instead of hundreds or thousands.

“It’s the new economy, and it’s the new reality,” Godwin said. “In terms of looking at the future quality of life for our community, we’re really looking at a generation of jobs that, for less of an investment in their education dollar-wise, has a very high return on what their earning capacity is. We can’t say that enough.”

“Take Commonwealth Crossing (Business Centre) as an example,” Wampler said. “You’ll have two leaders in higher education in this community, well-versed on Commonwealth Crossing, understand from first-hand experience how critical that is to the portfolio of recruiting new business to this community. And, when you really peel the onion back, you find how Patrick Henry and NCI are going to work together to meet the workforce needs, whether it’s one major employer at Commonwealth Crossing in the next couple of years or whether it’s 10. That’s the depth that we have and the commitment that we have to work together.”

“We understand this is a part of our role,” Godwin added. “This is our part of the recipe. This is what we have an opportunity to bring to the table on behalf of this community. It’s exciting, and it’s 24/7.”

Ultimately, she said, the community plays a major role in the success of drawing business to the area. By the time Wampler and Godwin sit down with business leaders to discuss a company potentially coming to the area, the area already has been through a vetting process.

“The companies that we actually know are looking at us,” Godwin said, “we have already gone through several tiers of the filter by then. They’re reading every word we say in the local paper. Before they move their people here, they’ve got to make sure that this is a great place for people to work and live, because they know that comes front and center to having a successful workforce. So I think our community should always be reminded of the role that they play in economic development.”

The community is on a tipping point, both agreed, and over the next several years, the ingredients are in place for Martinsville/Henry County to see the emergence of its next great economy.

“The community has taken its hits, it’s reflective, and now I believe our community and business leadership are all in,” Godwin said. “I think in the next five years, we will see consistent growth and expansion of some of our leading companies here, and I believe 100 percent we will be the new home of some of the more cutting-edge companies in the entire commonwealth. And (our area) will be seen as a critical ingredient for the whole Virginia economy.”


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