May 28, 2012
Advanced manufacturing is a viable and well-paying job option for young people in the region, according to one workforce partnership. 

The Dan River Region Collaborative is working to implement a regional initiative to show young people that products are still being made in Southern Virginia and to educate them about the skills needed to enter today's manufacturing workforce, said collaborative project director Julie Brown. Nineteen percent of the region's workers are still in manufacturing.


"I think it's going to take a collective effort to make sure we're doing our best to expose young people to career and job opportunities that are here in Southern Virginia," Brown said.


The local effort will collaborate with the Virginia Manufacturers Association's "Dream It. Do It. Virginia" campaign, which is also part of a national initiative. The state association will help the local workforce partnership create videos and marketing material about regional industry and end-products to show in schools. Starting next year, the Dan River Region Collaborative would also like to partner with regional manufacturers for on-site summer camps.


The campaign would also inform teenagers how to get the proper training, certifications, internships or higher education to enter various manufacturing careers. Most jobs don't need a traditional four-year degree.


Manufacturers across the country are concerned where their entry-level workers will come from as advanced processes and new technology mean workers need more math and computer skills and hands-on training.


"The goal is to strengthen the manufacturing pipeline," Brown said.


Getting the next generation engaged in manufacturing is essential for companies looking to grow in Southside, like Drake Extrusion in Martinsville and Amthor International in Gretna.


Many reports say there could be a resurgence in U.S. manufacturing in the Southeast as shipping and labor costs increase for companies operating in China or Asia. Drake Extrusion, which makes synthetic fibers and yarns, is already starting to see a resurgence, said CEO John Parkinson. Drake's Martinsville facility added nearly 60 jobs in the past 18 months.


Yet, Parkinson said there really isn't a workforce or training plan that helps companies like his get the workers they need.


"We've got to encourage bright kids out of high school to say, ‘Hey, there are skills here that can give you a good living and help you stay in this region if that's what you want to do," Parkinson said.


Amthor International, a tank truck manufacturer, conducts between eight and 12 weeks of on-the-job training for its "unique" skill needs, said marketing director Brian Amthor. Not all jobs revolve around a desk or computer, he added.


"As a manufacturer, it's important to reach out to the next generation," Amthor said. "As a growing company in the area, we're going to need more workers."


For more information about the statewide "Dream It. Do It." campaign, visit


If you're a manufacturer interested in getting involved in the campaign, call Julie Brown at (434) 836-5674 or email


By Tara Bozick: GoDanRiver