The Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing offers a renaissance for Martinsville and Henry County, according to local educational leaders.
The center represents a partnership and collaboration between Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), New College Institute (NCI), Eastman Chemical and Commonwealth Laminating and Coating.
Students who enroll in the program will be able to take a new 28-credit Advanced Film Certification program offered through PHCC; take classes at PHCC and NCI; access equipment at Eastman and Commonwealth Laminating; have potential hands-on internship opportunities; and have a leg-up when seeking employment at area advanced manufacturing facilities.
The program, which will have its first semester in fall 2014, had its public debut Thursday at PHCC’s Frith Building. Speakers included PHCC President Angeline Godwin, NCI Executive Director William Wampler, Eastman Superintendent of Utilities Brian Miller and Commonwealth Laminating founding board member Richard Hall.
After an introduction and ribbon-cutting, potential students were able to ask questions and obtain applications for the program and for jobs at Eastman and Commonwealth Laminating.
“If you’ve been waiting for our ship to come in, you need to set your eyes starboard,” Godwin said. “Today begins a new chapter in Martinsville and Henry County that we have written ourselves.”
Godwin described the program as “a true public/private partnership where globally recognized companies, economic and community development and academic and workforce training institutions come together and create a one-of-a-kind training and job pathway in advanced films.”
The Henry County-Martinsville area, she said, now is “the window film capital of the world” because it is home to the largest global share of advanced film manufacturing.
Miller said Eastman’s recently announced acquisition of Commonwealth Laminating, which is due to take place later this year, will make the program even better going forward.
“The amazing thing about the way this came together in Martinsville,” he said, “was you had a collaboration of some great leaders. Everybody was willing to work tirelessly and selflessly to make this happen in a very short period of time. This concept was developed in fall of last year, and in five short months, here we are today, publicly announcing the program, and we’re hoping to have students knocking on the door to sign up and register for the fall semester of 2014.”
Hall described Eastman as “the right partner” for Commonwealth Laminating and its employees.
“When we started this particular program, we were two companies,” he said. “Two individual companies that were fierce competitors in the marketplace who had no idea we’d be where we are today. Eastman had the forethought to invite us to the table, realizing that a rising tide carries all ships, and they could get further in our community raising the entire level of the workforce.”
Roughly 80 percent of the program’s curriculum, Hall said, is applicable to general industries in the area. The remaining 20 percent, he said, allows students interested in specializing in advanced film manufacturing to “go all the way.”
“Who doesn’t want another employee that is skilled, technically ready, has leadership qualities and is ready to go to work?” Hall said. “Those are the employees we’re after. ... We’re looking for people who want careers. They’re sick of jobs. They want careers.”
The advanced film manufacturing industry is so complex, Hall said, that employees frequently must be sent all over the world for training, which often involves “paying $2,000 to sit... and look at slides.”
“This new program says, why go look at a slide when you can see a machine?” Hall said. “You can get out there and see it, feel it, touch it and understand it.”
With that in mind, he said, a one-of-a-kind training machine, which ultimately will be housed at NCI’s new building on the Baldwin Block, is being designed and will arrive in Martinsville within the next year.
Potentially, Wampler said, this machine not only could be used to train local students and employees, but also employees from around the world.
“Think of 100 people coming into Martinsville to spend the night, eat in our restaurants (and) have a two- or three-day conference to learn the techniques of performance film,” Wampler said. “Instead of being in a conference room, having a PowerPoint presentation they can break out of after three hours, they can go to the advanced manufacturing floor and actually see the machine and understand what the new techniques and capabilities are.”
In that way, he said, the program could stimulate economic development and tourism beyond its initial scope.
Wampler said he believes the future of Martinsville and Henry County is bright.
“The rear-view mirror is an important tool,” he said, “but today we are looking forward, through the windshield, hopefully with the next generation of performance film attached thereto.”
Godwin agreed, saying that she believes Thursday’s announcement represents “a tipping point for our community.”
“What’s wonderful about this to me,” she said, “is that regardless of where you are, regardless of what your current job is ... there’s something for you. There’s an opportunity. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.”
The potential students at the event seemed excited by the program’s possibilities for their own lives and careers.
Riley Coulson, who is in his first semester at PHCC, said he attended the event because one of his friends works at Eastman and says that it’s “the best company he’s ever worked for.”
Coulson said he plans on applying to the program.
“The classes seem interesting to me,” he said. “It would take me farther in life.”
Michael Roberts, who also attends PHCC, said that after receiving an email about Thursday’s event, he did some online research about advanced film manufacturing that piqued his interest. He also is planning to apply for the program.
After hearing the presentation, he said, “I’m very excited and very motivated. I feel like it’ll be a good door-opener for myself and others.”
Zayd Muhammad was considering enrolling at PHCC when he was interviewed at an Eastman job fair in December. Muhammad also was at Thursday’s event, and he now is a PHCC student.
He said that he is considering enrolling in the advanced film manufacturing program.
“In my eyes, you’d be a fool not to take it,” he said. “They just want to get you a little bit of training and give you a job.”
For more information on the program, go to www.advancedfilm.org.