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Performance film industry growth sparked program

Sunday, April 6, 2014


A new training program to be announced Thursday will support Martinsville and Henry County’s new distinction as the epicenter of performance films, according to area officials.

The Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing and a new 28-credit Advanced Film Certification program will be announced at 11 a.m. Thursday in the Frith Exhibit Hall at Patrick Henry Community College.

The new training program is the result of a collaboration between higher education, economic development and two of the world’s leading producers of advanced window film — Eastman Chemical Co. and Commonwealth Laminating & Coating.

“We realized that we are the performance film capital of the world,” said Mark Heath, president/CEO of the EDC. “We’ve been given this gift by the grace of God, and quite honestly, we don’t want to lose that ground.”

The two companies “produce a majority of the world’s window film,” Heath said, and noted that in the last five years, they have invested more than $100 million locally. The projected local investment in the next three years is estimated at more than $50 million, he added.

The new training program is needed to fill the growing demand for skilled employees to ensure existing companies remain while attracting others, Heath said.

When discussions began nearly five months ago, Heath said, a team was created for “Project Genesis” and divided into three focus groups: curriculum, equipment and marketing/commercial.

“This was a true collaboration,” Heath said.

The 28-credit, year-long training program that will begin this spring is the result.

Rhonda Hodges, dean of workforce development and continuing education at PHCC, said the process has been “exciting, because the collaboration we see here” included potential employers at the table from the start.

William Wampler, executive director of the New College Institute, said “NCI is glad to host” the training program that was “industry led, (and) PH (Patrick Henry Community College) driven.” NCI will house equipment for hands-on training for the program.

Commonwealth’s general manager, Richard Hall, said that while both performance film companies need employees, the fact that they are working together on the project raised a few eyebrows.

It “was the last thing they expected to see,” Hall said of vendors’ reaction as he and Brian Miller, the division superintendent of centralized maintenance and services for Eastman, discussed equipment needs.

“The vendors’ jaw dropped,” Miller added.

“The collaboration got our attention from the very start. We are always looking at how to shorten the window to get employees ... a good employee that comes in trained” and ready to work, Hall said.

Miller agreed.

“It seems like Eastman showed up in the community at the perfect time for all this foundation work to come together,” he said. “We had the need, NCI has the facility, PHCC has new leadership, and there are other growing industries in the community with similar needs. We rang the doorbell at the right time.”

The two companies have since reached an agreement in which Eastman will acquire Commonwealth later this year.

The first graduates of the new training program are expected next spring.

Skills taught in the program are in demand in other industries, according to Miller, who added that a majority of the manufacturing that remains in the U.S. is advanced.

A job interview is guaranteed for those who complete the program, “and there is hope of a job,” Heath said. Pay and benefits will vary depending on individual companies, he added.

The training program will benefit not only those who want to pursue a career in advanced manufacturing, but also people who are under-employed, those who want to move up and those who want to learn new skills to advance, Heath said.

The training program also will be an option for high school graduates “who want to get training and go to work,” Heath said.

National statistics show that 66 percent of high school students go to college. “That’s great, and we want them to continue” pursuing higher education, he said.

But the same statistics also show that college is not for everyone. The new training program is an alternative for those who do not pursue higher education, he said.

Because training in advanced manufacturing is needed across the country, the program itself may attract students to the community from other areas, Heath said. That would mean additional revenue for the colleges and support for businesses such as hotels, motels and restaurants.

“We want this to grow,” Heath said.

Hall and Miller also share that goal, as well as the goal of having a well-trained labor force.

“We’re all after the same thing ... to create a more educated and qualified workforce,” Hall said. “The real magic of what makes us successful is not us. It’s the employees on the floors. They are the craftsmen.”


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