Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, along with Danville government and education leaders and dozens of high school students, participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony for George Washington High School’s new precision machining program Thursday.
“This is the only facility like it in the commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said in a speech beforehand. “No other high school has anything like it.”
Along with Danville City Council and Danville School Board members, the machining program’s first class of nine students sat in the front row while McAuliffe introduced the program. Before the speeches, the students showed off the practice area and classrooms in the new facility, which included dozens of shiny aluminum machines the size of office desks, a computer lab with dozens of computers and a classroom.
“It’s way out of my league,” McAuliffe joked as students showed off their new machining equipment.
During his remarks, he said the program was vital to the success of not just the city, but the entire state.
“This is critical,” the governor said. “We’re at a very unique position here in Virginia.”
The precision machining programs trains students for modern manufacturing jobs, creating small parts in everything from automotive tools to cell phones. Machinists can start work making $17-$24 an hour, according to data from Danville Community College.
With an unemployment rate close to 3-percent, McAuliffe said one of the biggest issues in the state was actually having too many unfilled positions. He said that these “middle skill” jobs, which required some additional training after a high school diploma, make up about 49-percent of the jobs in Virginia. However, the state trains about 39-percent of the orkforce for these positions.
Programs like precision machining were helping to close that gap, McAuliffe said.
“They’re leading the way,” he said.
McAuliffe was introduced by Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Todd Haymore, who grew up in Pittsylvania County and is himself a GWHS graduate.
“It is an honor and a privilege to be back at my alma mater, the greatest high school in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Haymore said to cheers.
Haymore said the region instilled his passion for public service, as well as investing in the economic development of Virginia.
“That pride that I had over 30 years was just elevated to another level,” Haymore said.
Danville Superintendent Stanley Jones said preparations for the program began back in 2014 as a partnership between the City of Danville, the school district and DCC. The program allows students to complete their first two years of a machining degree at GWHS, then transfer to DCC for the final two years.
The $1.6 million program is financed in part by a bond from the Danville City Council, as well as a $160,000 grant from the J.T.-Minnie Maude Charitable Trust, a Danville-based not-for-profit that provides education scholarships as well as grants to tax-exempt organizations.
“The investment in the precision machining program is historic in that it honors its past as a manufacturing giant, while investing in its future,” Jones said.
McAuliffe said the city should be proud of the new program.
“I want to congratulate all of you for what you have done for Danville,” he said.