A display of custom wheels that will soon be made in Danville by Macerata Wheels. All they had was 10 minutes. Danville Community College President Carlyle Ramsey and Danville Public Schools Superintendent Sue Davis got into an SUV with a couple of business prospects in town seeing if they could bring some of their business to the Dan River Region.

Ramsey and Davis only had face time with the prospects in the car ride to the site where the business could potentially be located. In a 10-minute time frame Ramsey and Davis had to discuss local education and how they were working together on workforce training.

“We hit them with everything we had,” said Ramsey, who declined to say which business it was.

After 20 years at the helm of DCC, pitching what the school does and how it can benefit industry has become a crucial part of the job as the market in the region has changed over the years.

Workforce development and training have been words thrown around by politicians and regional leaders in every facet of the community. In order to bring industry and develop the economy of an area, there must be workers and programs in place to serve their needs — the two go hand in hand.

While community college systems will usually play some sort of role in industry, DCC has tried to do more than just be another factor.

“With a prospect you’ve got to dazzle them with what they see,” said Ramsey. “We get them to the lab immediately. You have to walk in that lab and have them say ‘wow.’ That is what happened with Macerata.”

On March 18, Macerata Wheels announced its intention to hire 101 local workers over the next three years to manufacture custom wheel rims for cars and motorcycles, with plans to expand into other accessories in the future.

DCC was not the only factor in this development, but it played enough of a role that the announcement was made on the school’s campus.

Ramsey said Macerata made two trips to DCC, both confidential at the time. The first was a trip to view the machining facility on DCC’s main campus. Ramsey was out of town, but Vice President of Academic and Student Services Chris Ezell helped host the hour-long visit, where Macerata CEO Mike Farless was given a tour of the machining lab and the drafting and design lab next door where students study for certifications in machining, assembling and designing — exactly what the wheel-manufacturing company was looking for.

“We were really impressed,” Farless told the Register & Bee on March 18, who added that anyone who completes the two-year program at DCC will be considered for a job at Macerata earning about $40,000 a year.

“If they want a unique wheel, we can build it, construct it and design it,” said Ramsey. This is something that can take design firms weeks, but DCC can do in-house in a faster time frame.

The quickness with which a community college can produce programs and make class changes is something that sets them apart for four-year universities.

“The DCC president has to work fast,” said Ramsey. “That is the difference between us and the universities.”

People in business and economic development, he said, cannot wait years for changes and hesitation. And since community colleges churn out students with certificates and degrees in typically two years or less that makes for a constantly evolving student population and easier to add and change programs in place. The school also gives more degrees in manufacturing and technical fields, which transition faster to many company needs than the four year liberal arts degrees.

Adding extra incentive to recruiting Macerata — and the approximately 40 other companies in the country employing DCC’s machining students — is the $3.7 million expansion of the program, which didn’t happen overnight.

Included in part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget, local delegates Danny Marshall, R-Danville, and Don Merricks, R-Pittsylvania County and state Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, lobbied hard to secure the funds. Ramsey and his staff passed out materials to legislators, and the money made it through the General Assembly.

“It’s a great program they have there,” said Merricks. “When you look at DCC, Carlyle has been one of the best cheerleaders this area has had … It’s one of several spokes when you look at industries that have come.”

“I believe in the next three years, beginning now, this is going to enable economic development to use a much more robust training strategy,” said Ramsey.

While the future looks bright, Ramsey still remembers the end of the 1990s when the region was being hammered with manufacturing losses and the school had to recalibrate the direction they were taking with the rest of the region. Then the chambers of commerce merged, broadband was delivered, the Regional Center for Advanced Technology and Training and the Institute were built near the Danville Expressway. A new plan was taking shape. In 1992, about 45 percent of local jobs were in manufacturing — now that number is less than 25 percent.

Five months after Ramsey joined DCC he provided some of the school’s information to a local community leader actively trying to recruit a business, whom Ramsey preferred not to identify for this story. When he asked the person if there was anything DCC could do to help them, they told him they took the prospect on a “windshield drive-by” of the school — something that has always stuck with him.

The next day Ramsey met with several administrators on his staff and said if people are just driving by their school then they are not being taken seriously in economic development and the school needs to change its image in this area. Since then one of the goals of the school is to be an indispensable factor for recruiting business.

“It’s about all of these people,” said Ramsey, looking at a map of Danville, Pittsylvania County and Halifax County, the three areas where most DCC students hail from.

“This is your world,” Ramsey tells people applying to work as DCC faculty. “These people are depending on you.”

From GoDanRiver.com – by Tiffany Holland for the Danville Register & Bee. Denice Thibodeau contributed to this story.