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Registration begins for film program
New initiative targets education, workforce gap

Sunday, August 3, 2014


Registration has begun for the new Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing.

Early bird registration for the program began Friday and will continue until regular registration starts Aug. 20-21 at Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC).

Mark Heath, president/CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC), said interest has been strong in the program, which is a partnership and collaboration between PHCC, New College Institute (NCI), Eastman Chemical and Commonwealth Laminating and Coating.

“We’re trying to get 20 to 25 (students) in the first cohort,” Heath said. “If we do that and they come out at the other end, they are guaranteed an interview so if we’re lucky and half get jobs, people can see it is a path forward. It is not just us talking.”

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, officials have said.

The program is one local effort to narrow the gap between area residents’ skills and available jobs.

“There is no lack of jobs; we lack the skills, the work ethic, the soft and hard skills,” he said. The problem, he added, exists world-wide.

There is no “simple fix,” he said, but one remedy is for people to be willing to work — and work their way up. He pointed to the recent job fair at Hooker Field where employers had 500 positions to fill.

“We make it easy for people to sit on the sidelines. ... We’re a caring society — we should be, we need to do that. But there are job opportunities out there. They may have to take a lesser job while they work their way up,” Heath said.

Some of the change needs to begin in the schools, including bringing back vocational education, Heath said.

“We outsmarted ourselves” by saying that all young people have to go to college, he said. “Some should, but you can have a good life without” a college degree.

However, Heath said, employees still need to develop basic skills and talents to succeed.

“Education overall and workforce development is our biggest challenge,” he said.

Heath has said that efforts to recruit employees for local jobs now extend about 50 miles outside Martinsville. Over the next few years, he predicts that will grow to a 100-mile radius.

“We’ve got to market the fact that we have good jobs. We’d like them to go to our people first, but we have got jobs that have to be filled or they will go somewhere else,” he said.

The employment situation is a buyers’ market right now, he said. Educated, trained employees are becoming more mobile so employers are offering better benefits, hours and other things to attract those workers, he said.

The EDC has been averaging 10 to 13 active prospects a month in the past year, Heath said. Active prospects are ones that have visited here.

“In my mind I have some dates in the future (for possible business announcements), but I have no idea what’s going to happen,” he said. “We have two or three projects we’ve been working on for more than a year, one even for two years, which is good in that you know they’re real projects if they (a company) have invested that long” in it.

He added that he understands people’s frustrations at the slow pace of economic development, and his staff constantly talks about what else it could be doing. Other times, factors arise that are out of the EDC’s control, he said.

“We’ve had a pretty good run. The future looks good and I remain realistically optimistic,” he said.

Heath made his comments in a wide-ranging interview that updated several areas. Highlights include:

• The EDC is marketing the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. Those efforts will intensify in a year or 18 months when the recently launched grading at the site is nearing completion.

“Two years is nothing to a lot of companies” contemplating projects and considering the future, Heath said. “Sometimes it (a project) doesn’t get to the front burner until six months out.”

Commonwealth Crossing has large lots, so its appeal will be to a smaller group of companies, he said. It is being designed to suit companies that will help grow the tax base and raise wages.

The two companies that were interested in the site initially and helped convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve a permit for the grading remain interested, and others have shown interest as well, Heath said, declining to be more specific.

The EDC also is continuing to market the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park and other sites in the area, Heath added.

• Kilgour Industries has designed the plant it intends to build on Barrows Mill Road in the Patriot Centre industrial park. The U.K.-based aerospace company announced in February that it plans to invest $27.3 million in the new facility and hire 155 people.

Kilgour is seeking commitments for the local treatment side of its business, Heath said. Once it has those and knows what materials it will be dealing with, it will apply for state Department of Environmental Quality permits that are needed before construction can start, he added.

Heath said he hopes work on the plant will begin around the end of the year or start of 2015.

“It just takes time. If you think it will take six months, it’ll be a year. If you think it will take a year, it takes two,” he said.

• ICF International is hiring for its Martinsville Operations Center.

Heath said ICF has about 370 employees now and expects to have more than 400 by the end of the summer.

• The new shell building is about 99 percent finished. Landscaping in late August or September should complete the facility, Heath said.

“We’ve had a couple of companies show interest” in it, he said, adding that it generally takes three to five years to fill a shell building.

• The EDC is “getting settled” in its new offices in the New College Institute building being completed on the Baldwin Block.

“We look forward to the day it is all done and we can bring clients in and show them the whole thing,” Heath said, referring to the training facilities at the building.

The EDC previously was located on the second floor of the SunTrust Bank building on Church Street.

• The EDC continues to work on recruiting retail businesses to the area.

“It’s not our core business but we can devote time to it. ... Shame on us if we don’t try,” Heath said, adding that much of what the EDC does is provide demographics about the area.

The EDC has “had some conversations” with the owners of Liberty Fair Mall and the city but it is not involved with the renovations or recruiting there, he said.


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