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Posted on: September 15, 2016

Official: Commitments are signs precision machining pipeline effort is working

“We wouldn’t be here without this.”

“This” is the effort that has been made in the Dan River Region to provide more training programs to get people ready to work in precision machining fields, according to Alan Pearce, president and CEO of Kyocera SGS Tech Hub.

Pearce made his comments after Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Thursday that the company had made a commitment to invest $9.5 million on a new custom cutting tool manufacturing plant in the Danville Pittsylvania County Cyber Park.

Pearce swept his arm to indicate the Gene Haas Center for Integrated Machining, where the announcement was made, and part of the overall pipeline of high-tech precision machining workers Danville Community College, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, Danville and Pittsylvania County officials, public schools and organizations have been working to create for the past several years.

This pipeline, Pearce said, is why Danville was chosen over several other locations for the company’s new plant.

Jason Wells, chief technology officer of Kyocera SGS Tech Hub, said the company will use offices in the Haas Center — as well as space at the Institute — for manufacturing until the company’s 30,000-square-foot plant can be built.

Now that the announcement has been made, the company is not going to waste much time getting started. Wells said interviews for precision machining jobs would begin in October with plans to begin manufacturing in November.

Wells repeated Pearce’s compliments about the local precision machining pipeline, saying it would provide the company with a skilled workforce, and said they were impressed with the area’s commitment to expanding the program.

“The people, the community … the proactive approach to machining made us decide to come here,” Wells said. “We certainly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this.”

Tom Loehr was hired as a consultant by the Capstone Integrated Machining Technology program at DCC — the third-year precision machining program housed at the Haas Center — three years ago to use his 14 years of experience at Rolls-Royce and 16 years at Honeywell Aerospace to develop a marketing plan for the program and support improvements to it.

“It’s an extraordinary machining program and companies will come to you because of it — but they need to know about you,” Loehr said.

Loehr said the program at DCC started out with about 25 students in the precision machining pipeline and has grown to about 180 — all of whom have found jobs once they completed the program, Loehr said.

“Tell me of another program that can do that,” Loehr said. “It’s an extraordinary success story.”

Loehr said the commitment from Kyocera SGS Tech Hub — and the July announcement that Overfinch North America was opening a plant in the Cyber Park — are signs that the precision machining pipeline effort is working.

“This is proof companies want to be where those pipelines are,” Loehr said.

Loehr said he understood some of the skepticism expressed during the early years of the program, since most graduates had to leave the area to find precision machining jobs — but said a solid, top-tech training program that supplies trained workers takes time to build and commended the “sound judgment” of the people who supported and built the program.

“That really shows leadership,” Loehr said. “Advanced manufacturing jobs are the ones we will keep for generations.”

Karl Stauber, president and CEO of the Danville Regional Foundation, said that while the foundation did not fund the Capstone project directly, it has supported various STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — programs in the region, including the precision machining program for Pittsylvania County high school students at the Pittsylvania County Career and Technical Center.

“Overall, we’ve put $6.5 million into these programs over the past two years,” Stauber said.

Jerry Gwaltney, executive director at the Institute and a retired Danville city manager, said Kyocera SGS Tech Hub will construct its building across the street from the Institute’s campus, which includes the Haas Center. He pointed out the company has a long and successful history.

“They have been very well vetted and are a great catch,” Gwaltney said.

Gwaltney praised the collaborative efforts of all the parties involved in creating the regional advanced manufacturing pipeline.

“That’s what brings home the wins,” Gwaltney said.

Denice Thibodeau is a reporter for the Danville Register & Bee. Contact her at dthibodeau@registerbee.com or (434) 791-7985.

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