The state of Virginia has long served as one of the regional cornerstones of the United States, most notably due to its role in igniting and sustaining important sectors of the nation’s economy throughout its history.
In recent years this has only continued, and in 2015 the Commonwealth State stands strong as one of America’s leading states in terms of overall economic production. Although defined by its diverse set of markets, a significant portion of the state’s success stems from a robust and dynamic manufacturing sector. Brett Vassey, President and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association, sits down once again to talk about the comprehensive nature of manufacturing in Virginia and sheds light on the future-driven industrial sectors his state is carefully cultivating to ensure success for the long-term. Steve Engelhardt reports.
When Honeywell chose to invest million dollars over the last year into its facility in Hopewell, Va.—one of the world’s largest caprolactam and ammonium sulfate producing plants in the world—it sent the message that while a company of its size could theoretically have chosen to expand or relocate just about anywhere it wanted to in the world, the state of Virginia and its incentives, workforce, and overall business climate stood out as the best option.
It’s a similar decision that many other leading companies from a wide variety of industries have come to over the years, as evidenced by the more than 6,000 manufacturers and 230,000 employees currently at work across Virginia today. And recently, this success has only grown even more. “Industries like tobacco, food and beverage, transportation equipment, forestry products and more have long served as stalwart sectors critical to our success, but over the last year we’ve seen other areas like chemicals, medical devices, and even automotive really come into fruition and contribute on a significant level to our state’s economy,” says Vassey.
Another intriguing sector emerging within the state is craft brewing, a market initially saved by Jimmy Carter in 1979 when he chose to deregulate the beer industry and buck former Prohibition-era laws in favor of allowing smaller craft brewers to enter the market and begin competing with larger ones. “Four years ago there were less than 40 breweries across the state of Virginia, but today that number has surged to 105, with an additional 20 entities holding a license.” Supporting this movement, he says, was the presence of a number of old manufacturing warehouses scattered throughout the state whose structures may have fallen out of date with respect to the needs of today’s advanced manufacturing, but provide a perfect facility for smaller companies looking to establish 3, 5, or 10 barrel production plants.
“You can easily retrofit one of these old buildings for a brewery, which ends up playing positively into the experience for customers who wish to come in and do a tasting, for example,” he says, adding, “And in a short span of time the success has gone through the roof, with Virginia’s craft brewing industry responsible for over $600 million in economic impact and providing direct and indirectly related jobs to over 8,000 individuals as well.”
While craft brewing production may serve as a fresh new market that Virginia is taking advantage of, one must also look to the state’s increasingly integral role in the development and maturation of the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) industry here in the United States. And with organizations like NASA and federal department headquarters like the Pentagon well entrenched within the state, it makes sense that Virginia is leading the way in UAV testing and, ultimately, manufacturing. “We believe there is a long term future for UAV’s in both the defense and consumers markets, and I think it says a lot about our state and its resources that the production of perhaps one of the most impactful and influential technologies of the future will be born on a large scale in Virginia.”
He’s referring to the impressive workforce and skill development resources his organization and many others around the state have worked hard to create and foster over the years to ensure that Virginia as a state has a talented, capable manufacturing workforce ready for decades to come. One of these is the state’s Manufacturing Skills Institute (MSI), an agency created in 2012 by the VMA with the aim of providing relevant education and skills training for careers in advanced manufacturing. “There are four types of readiness—Work, College, Career, and Industry—that an individual must consider when choosing a career in modern manufacturing, and this institute served as a jumping off point to begin training with regards to such,” Vassey says, adding, “It’s been extremely successful and has expanded to 7 additional states in the last three years as well.”
He also talks about the public and private collaboration occurring throughout the state between manufacturers, state and local governmental agencies, and education system leaders from kindergarten all the way up to universities that have come together to strengthen the core of manufacturing training and education. “Governor McAuliffe and others like Kathy Byron, a legislative delegate from Lynchburg, have provided critical support to our overall goal of workforce development and skill attainment,” he says, adding, “And that’s extremely important because the future of advanced manufacturing in this state is going to not only come from reliable yet niche groups like experienced laborers and veterans, but also through those coming out of college now and in the future, whether that be through a 4-year degree or community college.”
Another important aspect of manufacturing’s future not only here in Virginia but the rest of the United States is the ability to effectively measure and value regions that are on the upswing, and where industrial growth could best be suited with respect to an area’s abilities and capacities. “The Virginia Manufacturers Association has been working with the Southern Manufacturing Consortium to establish an index called the Southern Manufacturing Competitiveness Index,” he says, adding, “ It will feature 20-25 different metrics considered to be core competency measurements of determining manufacturing success within a state to better provide would-be investors with a clearer sense of the advantages of manufacturing in the Southern region of the United States—which I believe to be the future of manufacturing in this country.”
Between Vassey’s confidence in his state’s manufacturing scene and the widespread collaboration going on between public and private agencies across the state, it appears as though Virginia is aggressively setting itself up to become a major hub for industry here in the United States, and given it’s important place in our nation’s history and present identity, that’s something that should excite everyone.
Brett Vassey, President and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association
About the Virginia Manufacturers Association
Since 1922, the Virginia Manufacturers Association (VMA) have exclusively served as Industry’s Advocate™ and their mission is to create the best business environment in the United States for world-class advanced technology businesses to manufacture and headquarter their businesses for maximum productivity and profitability.
The Virginia Manufacturers Association develops constructive policies and activities on behalf of industry by serving as an advocate for legislative, regulatory, taxation, environmental, workplace, business law, insurance, and technology issues, and as an aggregator of business services for their Members. The VMA will serve as their Members’ primary resource for consultative services and programs which they require to remain highly competitive, technology-intensive and efficient organizations.