Gov. Terry McAuliffe came to Danville on Friday to honor the more than $1 million — and a nearly equal amount of hopes — invested into the freshly completed Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.
The ribbon cutting gathered together a long list of politicians, funders, donors and educators to remark upon and honor the milestone achievement that is the Gene Haas Center. The center, part of the Capstone Integrated Machining Technology project, is a partnership between Danville Community College and the Institute.
With a $1 million Gene Haas Foundation endowment, a $1.9 million Danville Regional Foundation grant and an additional $650,000 worth of Haas Automation equipment, the center is state-of-the-art workflow cell training lab. Funding has come from numerous private sector donors with the majority coming from the Gene Haas Foundation.
Industry supporters include Master Gage & Tool Co. of Danville, Mitsubishi EDM, Mitutoyo, National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Sandvik Coromant and Skills USA.
The center is designed to replicate the real world working experience with quality, high-tech machines. Equipment will be replaced every two years to stay in rhythm with manufacturing advancements.
"We have to have the best workforce if we're going to recruit those businesses to our communities. Workforce development and advanced manufacturing are the two pillars of building that 21st century economy," McAuliffe said.
Every conversation the governor has had in his visits with international CEOs inevitably leads to questions about the viability of Virginia's workforce. Will Virginia have the needed workforce for the next 10, 15 and 20 years?
"I know Southern Virginia has the talent to build the advanced products of the future of the 21st century and the new Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining will provide the training to turn that talent into a highly skilled workforce that every CEO demands," he continued.
More than 930,000 workers will retire in the next 10 years with an additional 500,000 jobs needing to be filled, McAuliffe stated. About half of those will be specialized, technical, skilled jobs that are accessible only with licenses, apprenticeships, credentials or other types of certificates. Typically these jobs require less than a four-year degree but an alternative education track.
McAuliffe stated that the center would be a massive engine of economic change by diversifying the skill set and workforce of Virginia. These individual changes will help the state reduce its reliance on the federal government, which will decrease the pain of Department of Defense budget cuts.
Longtime support of what Institute Executive Director Jerry Gwaltney called the "beacon on the hill" has been provided by retired Sen. Charles R. Hawkins. To show appreciation for his role, the facility is named the Charles R. Hawkins Building.
"This is where it all changes," Hawkins said with emphatic gestures. "Driving here today I happened to remember that this used to be a tobacco field that produced the bright leaf that gave us prosperity, wealth and a stable economy and out of this field that existed, another building arose that gives a new direction, a new point of view, a new economy, a new understanding."
Danville Regional Foundation CEO and President Karl Stauber was on hand as a representative of one of the center's larger donors. He praised the center as a prime example of the success of partnerships instead of solo maneuvers. Stauber explained that these collaborations can be challenging or frustrating but ultimately yield great results such as attracting companies and breeding entrepreneurism.
"We have to create new competitive advantage every day as a region. This facility puts us in a whole different realm in terms of creating new competitive advantage. It also demonstrates the future we must pursue and that is a partnership," Stauber said.
Remarks by Gene Haas commended the educators that help guide Danville Community College precision machining students to the third year level of teaching provided by the Capstone Project and Gene Haas Center. He told the crowd that as much as the community warmly welcomed him, the advanced manufacturing sector will do the same for the program's participants.
"It's a great profession. There's a huge demand for manufacturing in this country and there's a lot of job openings. And most of the jobs are very high paying. Typical jobs are $30-100,000 a year. It's not uncommon for someone as a machinist to make over $50-60,000 a year. They're very local jobs. They don't necessarily require that you have to move to a different part of the state or city. They can be done here," Haas explained.
He was impressed to hear the transformation weathered by the Dan River Region and the state at large, losing tobacco, textile and furniture industries one after the other.
"Going from an agricultural community to a manufacturing environment is really a quantum leap but on an acre of land you can get so much for a crop. If you're growing corn, you may get a few dollars a bushel but if you take that same piece of land and you start manufacturing things, now you're talking hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said.
Photos courtesy of the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research