November 28, 2018

Modern Industry eXchange Brings Teachers into Local Industries

    Young people do not need to leave the area and earn four-year college degrees to get good jobs with promising futures here.
    That was the message heard by local teachers and school counselors in the Modern Industry eXchange (MIX) program after they toured three local industries recently.
    “We have lots of opportunities for people in Martinsville and Henry County to become employed,” Martinsville Middle School teacher Stephanie Atkins said, summing up comments of several other educators.
    “We are all so conditioned” to think that there are no jobs here, but that is not the case, Atkins said she learned. “There are jobs available. I hope many members of the community take advantage” of them.
    The MIX program enables area educators to visit local businesses and industries so they can help their students understand the employment possibilities here, according to DeWitt House of the Harvest Foundation and Sarah Hodges of the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corp. (EDC). Those two organizations sponsor MIX, and House and Hodges accompanied the educators on the tours.
    Also, they said, educators are encouraged to share the information they learn with their colleagues.
    Now when a student says “‘There’s nothing here’, … I know better,” said Nicole Kendall, who teaches marketing and CTE (career and technical education) at Bassett High School. She added that through the MIX program, she learned there is a future here for students.
    The MIX program was divided into two parts. On Oct. 11, the 18 educators visited Eastman and Arconic, both in the Patriot Centre at Beaver Creek industrial park. On Oct. 25, they toured Solid Stone Fabrics off Rives Road and Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre (CCBC) on the county’s southern border.
    They also heard from Henry County Administrator Tim Hall, Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki, EDC President/CEO Mark Heath and Patrick Henry Community College President Dr. Angeline Godwin.
    Towarnicki noted that Monogram Foods in the Patriot Centre is seeking to hire about 100 people and plans to expand with 300 more.
    “There are hundreds of jobs in a full spectrum of career choices” that are unfilled, he said.
    Many of those jobs do not require four-year college degrees and some pay upwards of $50,000 a year, Towarnicki said, adding that some are with the local operations of national companies that offer advancement opportunities.
    He urged the educators to spread the word about job openings and possibilities.
    Those include the $6.5 million, 25,898-square-foot Commonwealth Centre for Advanced Training (CCAT) being built at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. When the building is completed next spring, a company that locates in the business centre can use it to recruit employees and train them on company equipment. When the company’s new facility is ready, it will move its equipment and employees there and another CCBC company can use the training building.
    The CCAT building gives this area an advantage in recruiting companies to Commonwealth Crossing, according to Towarnicki, Godwin and Henry County Deputy Administrator Dale Wagoner, who addressed the MIX group at CCBC. He added that there is very little county money in CCAT; the Harvest Foundation, Tobacco Commission, VEDP and the use of New Market Tax Credits, funded the majority of it.
    Godwin said the training center will help bring sustainable, higher wages to the area and “a pathway students can see” to good jobs. Enabling a company to build its workforce while it constructs its building gives the area a “very, very powerful competitive advantage” in recruiting industries, she said.
    PHCC will provide the training at CCAT, which will be tailored for each industry using the center. That is the approach used at the local Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing developed for Eastman, in which 80 percent of the curriculum is advanced manufacturing and 20 percent is tailored to the company.
    “You are front-line recruiters for economic opportunity in the area,” Godwin told the educators. They can “show students they can have a career in advanced manufacturing here and beyond” and also be part of the area’s economic recovery.

    The three companies which the educators toured all are hiring or planning to hire employees.
    Solid Stone, which manufactures and distributes fabric worldwide for consumer markets, has 80 employees in Henry County plus about five in sales elsewhere, and it will need between five and 20 more in the near future, according to David Stone, company founder and CEO.
    The company hires some college graduates as well as “sharp high school kids” who are good with computers and machines, Stone said.
    The challenge is “not just finding good people but keeping good people,” he said. To do that requires paying higher wages, and “economic development will make that happen.”
    Solid Stone offers competitive pay and benefits package as well as an employee-friendly management style, and it has little turnover, he said. “We’re proud of that,”’ he added.
    Arconic’s Martinsville operation, formerly RTI International Metals, is an aerospace grade titanium production facility for commercial and military aviation. Employees operate automated titanium forging and finishing equipment that requires proficient computer and computational skills to problem solve, according to EDC information.
    Its Patriot Centre operation employs 55 people and hopes to continue to grow, according to Glenn Wood, human resources manager with the company. In late October, it was hiring utility operators, who are cross trained on multiple machines, and a maintenance mechanic, he said.
    Arconic seeks higher-caliber individuals who generally are working for someone else and choose to move to Arconic, he said. Applicants must pass a test that covers general math and reading for comprehension, basically at a high school graduate level, as well as such things as the ability to follow directions and work safely, Woods said.
    “I tell kids and educators when they take kids through here, we have jobs for engineers and materials management and human resources that require a college degree. But if you want to come here and get a good job, you have to have a high school diploma,” Wood said.
    The company has worked with local schools since 2012, and “I like to think we’re getting our message into the schools,” Wood said. “We try to participate in any way we can support public educators. They are producing a resource for us down the road.”
    Eastman is a global advanced materials and specialty additives company that produces a broad range of products found in items people use every day. It focuses on delivering innovative and technology-based solutions while maintaining its commitment to safety and sustainability, according to EDC information.
    Eastman currently has more than 700 employees working in its two facilities in Henry County that manufacture performance films that are sold worldwide under Eastman’s Advanced Materials business segment.
    Shawn Pace, site manager for the Eastman facility in the Patriot Centre, said when the educators visited, “We discussed what modern industry looks like in terms of safety, quality, complexity and technology. We also discussed the skill sets and personal attributes our prospective employees need to be successful in this environment.”
    The educators were impressed with how technical and complex Eastman’s manufacturing processes are and the attention to detail that is required to make high-quality products, Pace said. The group also visited with a few employees and noted the importance of collaboration and problem solving skills in addition to core education requirements such as reading comprehension, he said.
    Pace said Eastman currently is hiring for plant operating roles as well as engineering and other positions. Plant operating roles do not require college degrees while the engineering and business support positions do, he added.
    More information on employment and applications is available at and

    In addition to the job prospects here, some educators were surprised by the level of technology in the industries, just as Pace observed.
    Jeff Wickline, who teaches marketing at Magna Vista High School, said when he thinks of industry work he visualizes piece work and strenuous, hard work. But that is not the case now, he said, adding that he was impressed with what he saw in the companies and now knows that “you don’t have to leave the area to be successful.”
    Atkins agreed, saying that what used to be vocational education that led to industry jobs meant getting your hands dirty. But not now, she added.
    Rebecca Everhart, a business teacher at Magna Vista, and Elizabeth Barbour, a computer science teacher at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School, both said they were impressed with the technology they saw.
    “It’s not hands-on, physical labor in a factory,” Everhart said. At Arconic, only a handful of people run the production operation, which is far different from the factories she worked in during her summers in college, she said.
    Barbour also noted that instead of manual labor, people work at computers and manipulating controls.
    Atkins said she will implement what she learned in the career class at Martinsville Middle School. That school also has career fairs, college awareness months and other activities to help students determine what they want to do with their futures, she added.
    Carlos Wade teaches Introduction to Technology — robotics — at Fieldale-Collinsville Middle School. The MIX program made him “prouder of Martinsville and Henry County” because students can stay in the area and find good jobs, he said.
    He said he was “surprised and not surprised” at the amount and nature of the technology at the local companies, including the robotics he saw at Eastman and Arconic. They use skills that mirror ones his students are learning, he added.
    Wade said he would like to be able to bring students into the workplaces to see how their lessons connect to local jobs. That is something Stone said he welcomes at Solid Stone, and he invited the educators to bring their classes for tours or to work on a specific project.