via The Richmond Times-Dispatch [link]

The Virginia Manufacturers Association is partnering with ECPI University to create a hub for manufacturing education and training in Southside Virginia to help align regional employer needs and economic development objectives.

The new Manufacturing Skills Institute announced Friday will be in South Boston at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, a high-tech campus for cultural, educational, job-training and workforce development for the region.

It also is home to several centers that focus on innovation, technology, modeling and simulation, as well as material coating and energy efficiency.

Officials say the institute will help ensure a workforce pipeline to meet current and future job requirements in advanced-technology industries.

“What this center represents is that critical hub we’ve been looking for because in training, with full-scale world-class technology, it always ends up being an issue of affordability and critical mass,” said Brett Vassey, the Virginia Manufacturers Association’s president and CEO.

“These days it’s just too expensive and too difficult for any one organization to close these skills gaps. … It is truly a public-private partnership and it’s everybody using their own resources and collaborating around a common set of goals.”

Vassey said Virginia’s more than 5,000 manufacturers employ more than 230,000 people and contribute $34 billion to the gross state product. The industry also accounts for more than 80 percent of the state’s exports.

Over the past 20 years, the industry has shed more than 43 percent of its total jobs — with higher percentages in Southside and Southwest Virginia — but still creates about the same gross state product.

“We have transitioned as an industry from labor-intensive to technology-intensive, and it doesn’t even matter if you’re making a technology product. … That has changed the workforce dramatically,” he said, adding that the location puts the institute within two hours from major concentrations of manufacturing in the region.

The initiative builds on other advanced-manufacturing research and training efforts throughout Virginia, notably the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing in Prince George County, which is bringing together universities and industry to help the state regain its manufacturing roots. The work being done there will be used for production that has come a long way from the textile and furniture plants that once operated in the region.

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