What will it take to expand manufacturing in Virginia?

Investing in the workforce is key to strengthening the advanced manufacturing industry, the president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers told Danville Monday.

Regions that want to boost their manufacturing, like Danville and surrounding Pittsylvania County, need to grow the talent pool and invest in people. That’s how you attract major manufacturers, Jay Timmons said.

Jay Timmons. Courtesy of NAM.

“Labour is the most important asset,” he said. “It’s the secret ingredient and manufacturers all over the country know it.”

Timmons spoke to more than 100 people at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville as part of the Cardinal News lecture series. This was the second event in Cardinal News’ series of lectures. The first brought Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, to Blacksburg in June.

American National Bank & Trust Co., First Piedmont Corp. and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Danville have joined Cardinal News to co-host this event.

NAM, which the Timmons Group leads, is an organization that represents 14,000 manufacturers across the country from all industry sectors. It employs nearly 13 million Americans and advocates policies that encourage manufacturing.

The City of Danville, a former manufacturing city which saw the departure of tobacco and textiles, was a favorite place. Both the city and county are invested in the theme of the event – the future of advanced manufacturing,

This area may have a promising manufacturing future, Timmons said.

“It can absolutely be a decade of making,” he said. “But we have to make the right choices today.”

There have been more than 860,000 manufacturing positions open each month on average over the past year, Timmons said. And by the end of the decade, more than 2 million manufacturing jobs could remain unfilled.

It would cost the economy $1 trillion in 2030 alone. This data is based on research by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, the nonprofit workforce development and education arm of NAM, of which Timmons is chairman of the board.

These statistics underscore the importance of investing in a workforce, Timmons said. NAM and the Manufacturing Institute have launched programs to this effect, as have Danville and Pittsylvania.

Coincidentally, NAM and Danville and Pittsylvania took a similar approach. They both focus on raising awareness in different localities to bridge the skills gap and correct misinterpretations of modern manufacturing among young people.

NAM does this through a program called Creators Wanted, a campaign to create a manufacturing workforce for the future.

“It’s basically a traveling show that goes to communities across the country,” Timmons said. “It’s a triple-wide tractor-trailer.”

Creators Wanted visits communities and introduces the younger generation to hands-on high-tech careers they may not have considered before, he said.

“It gives young people a taste of what manufacturing is all about,” Timmons said. “You see them come out really excited and elated about a future career in manufacturing.”

Jake Taylor, GO TEC Technical and Training Manager explaining the GO TEC lab equipment at Timmons. Photo by Grace Mamon.

It’s a lot like the GO TEC program that started in Danville and Pittsylvania in 2018, which introduces middle schoolers to careers and manufacturing skills.

GO TEC, an acronym for Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers, started at three colleges.

The Danville Institute for Advanced Learning and Research has helped this program expand to 25 colleges across the state. These colleges have an in-house laboratory with manufacturing equipment such as milling machines, 3D printers, laser cutters and a welding simulator.

There’s even a GO TEC bus, similar to the Creators Wanted tractor-trailer, that transports manufacturing equipment to locations around Virginia to educate students and teachers about these career opportunities and encourage them to join the program.

Jake Taylor, GO TEC’s technical and training manager, said he took the bus to locations in southwest Virginia and all the way to Portsmouth.

Jay Timmons, left, on the Go Tec bus. Photo by Grace Mamon.

That means Danville and Pittsylvania County are ahead of at least one of Timmons’ recommendations: invest in a workforce.

But Timmons listed other boxes that need to be checked at the regional, state and national level.

to ensure manufacturing thrives.

“While the industry is doing all it can to make this decade manufacturing, we also need to have decisive action from policy makers,” he said.

In addition to investment in labor, policy that encourages manufacturing is a huge factor in the growth of the industry.

“South Virginia and Southern Virginia have a history of fostering strong manufacturing communities,” Timmons said. “This legacy can be, as you know, disrupted by policies that undermine our ability to compete in a global marketplace.”

The industry faces supply chain disruptions, the highest level of inflation in decades and fierce global competition, Timmons said.

Washington lawmakers should enact pro-business and pro-manufacturing policies, he said, referring to former Rep. Denver Riggleman’s support for tax reform.

He also referenced the CHIPS and Science Act, which Congress passed this summer with the goal of expanding semiconductor manufacturing in the United States. Semiconductors are Virginia’s second-largest export, as of 2021, Timmons said.

The law also allocates funds to create regional technology hubs, where the partnership will support the development of advanced manufacturing technologies and job creation.

“Frankly, it would be great to see Southside declared as one of those hubs,” Timmons said.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, one of the champions of this legislation, also said he made a commitment to have semiconductor factories in Virginia during his August visit to Danville.

Also domestically, Timmons said immigration reform was needed to support advanced manufacturing. Bringing talented workers into the country legally can help grow the manufacturing workforce, especially with the aging US population.

“It’s virtually impossible to have an aging and shrinking population and still grow the economy in a way that makes people’s lives better,” Timmons said. “Immigration is a solution.”

Providing an appropriate and balanced pathway to legal immigration is the right thing to do in a country that has always been a nation of immigrants, but it will also meet our economic needs, he said.

“Remember those 860,000 jobs,” Timmons said. “There are 12 million economy-wide jobs that are open right now.”

If we don’t welcome more legal immigrants, he said, their talent will go to other countries, taking away sales from American companies, and the population will likely shrink further.

After his speech, Timmons met with local leaders to learn more about the region, which included briefing notes on GO TEC, the Southern Virginia mega site at Berry Hill, the accelerated training and defense manufacturing program – a partnership with the Ministry of Defense to create a shipbuilding workforce.

He then took a tour of the Institute, which ended at the Charles R. Hawkins Engineering and Industrial Technologies Building, which houses the IALR’s advanced manufacturing division. The building is designed to replicate a real manufacturing experience with high quality and relevant equipment.

“Every 18 months, all the equipment here comes out and new, updated equipment comes in,” Timothy Robertson, COO of the manufacturing department, told Timmons during the tour.

Timmons said it was incredibly unique. Usually, the labs where students learn manufacturing skills have equipment handed down from companies, often five or 10 years old, he said.

It’s important for students to see high-tech equipment, to correct the stigma that manufacturing is dirty and outdated, agreed Timmons and Telly Tucker, president of the IALR.

Later in the day, Timmons attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the AeroFarms Pittsylvania County site to highlight the connection between advanced manufacturing and food and beverage production. AeroFarm’s new operation is the largest indoor vertical farming facility in the world.

During the IALR tour, Timmons told Cardinal he was very impressed with the manufacturing efforts in Danville and Pittsylvania.

“The communities that are going to be successful in the future are the ones that are currently investing in this type of economic architecture,” he said. “It’s really hard for a lot of communities to think about investing in those kinds of resources or the time it takes. But you have to be clear-sighted, and that’s what will produce the winners of the future.

Tucker asked Timmons about which communities to compare regarding manufacturing progress during the regional briefing.

After seeing the efforts of IALR, Danville Community College, area economic development and other organizations, “I feel like some communities are going to ask to compare themselves to Danville,” Timmons said.

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