NCI: High-tech training will attract companies

April 6, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville area has the potential to become a center for advanced manufacturing, as well as research and development, in a few years, according to New College Institute (NCI) officials.

They say that is due to two high-tech companies — RTI International Metals and ICF International — locating here, and NCI’s proposed new building in which students would learn advanced manufacturing skills and, perhaps, companies would be able to do research. (See related story.)

“We can make Martinsville-Henry County the virtual hub for an extension of CCAM” — the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, said NCI Executive Director William Wampler.

CCAM, under development in Prince George County near Petersburg, aims to bring research universities and companies together to create innovations that lead to better products and more efficient production, according to an earlier Virginia Tech news release.

NCI, funded by the state and The Harvest Foundation, offers local access to higher-level courses needed to earn certain bachelor’s and master’s degrees from universities. To pursue bachelor’s degrees at NCI, students must take their first two years of courses elsewhere, such as a community college.

High-tech companies will go where the work force is ready to do the jobs, Wampler said.

Leanna Blevins, NCI’s associate director/chief academic officer, said the institute is working with local school systems and Patrick Henry Community College to improve their science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculums.

That is a step toward luring more high-tech firms to the area. Another step is having those students, once they have achieved success in STEM programs in the public schools, go to NCI and earn degrees that will allow them to work for high-tech companies, Blevins and Wampler indicated.

NCI also can attract students from elsewhere to earn degrees in high-tech fields, Blevins said.

Attracting more high-tech companies may not happen overnight.

However, “If you want to go after that market (high-tech companies) in six years,” Wampler said, giving a hypothetical number, “you can’t start in year five.” He said he thinks local school systems have realized that.

RTI and ICF must be successful here in order for the area to continue to attract high-tech companies, Wampler reasoned.

Being able to graduate students with high-tech skills from local schools and colleges “will set us (the community) apart from the rest of the gang” as far as being able to attract those businesses and industries, he added.

Mark Heath, president and CEO of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp., said the quality of local educational offerings “is always one of the first discussions we have” with executives from companies considering whether to locate in the area.

"To demonstrate a close connection between industry and education ... sends a strong, positive message that sets us apart” from other localities, Heath said.

Rolls Royce, which has a plant in Prince George County that makes aircraft engine parts, was the catalyst for establishing CCAM there, according to an article in this month’s issue of Virginia Business magazine.

To his understanding, Wampler said that both Rolls Royce and Airbus, an aircraft manufacturer with headquarters in Herndon, “are watching us.”

“It’s a stretch, but we’re on their radar scope” as far as a potential future expansion, he said. For right now, “they are our cheerleaders and want us to succeed.”


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