Skilled workforce is biggest challenge for Tri-Cities manufacturing


BRISTOL, Tenn. - The state of local manufacturing was the focus of a town hall meeting at Bristol Motor Speedway Thursday afternoon. Industry and government leaders from both Tennessee and Virginia weighed in to help shape the future.

President and CEO of the Virginia Manufacturers Association Brett Vassey said thed area's strengths are its location between the North and Southeast, and access to reliable public resources.

"Affordable reliable power, water, sewer, all that infrastructure, roads bridges, all of it," Vassey said, "and then you even get into broadband.

The challenge is building a skilled workforce. The VMA wants to engage community colleges and technical high schools to provide more pathways to industry credential training.

"You need all the faculties of a traditional higher education, but you also need the skills that used to be traditionally exclusive to blue collar," Vassey said. "That doesn't exist anymore. They're blended."

Virginia delegateIisrael O'Quinn is among local legislators speaking on efforts to attract and keep companies. He said part of the difficulty is training a wider workforce while simultaneously attracting jobs, one usually conditional on the availability of the other.

"You have to market the region while also having good sites, while keeping the economic environment competitive," O'Quinn said, "but the workforce training is the real key to it."

Now the VMA is rolling out a strategic plan to increase growth in the sector and goals including producing 2,000 manufacturing technicians a year.

"We want to be able to guarantee that anyone who goes through the publicly funded workforce training system is workforce guaranteed," Vassey said. "That means they're work ready certified by an independent assessment."