SW community colleges to create wind manufacturing workforce
4 community colleges signed MOU as part of InvestSWVA initiative
The presidents of four community colleges in Southwest Virginia signed a memorandum of understanding Wednesday to establish a wind manufacturing workforce development partnership.
“Today’s MOU signing is meaningful because it demonstrates our resident and abiding interest in collaborating. Our four community college presidents are setting an example of how to find ways to work together over significant opportunities that can empower the region as a whole,” said Will Payne, managing partner of Coalfield Strategies LLC and project lead for InvestSWVA.
Mountain Empire Community College, Southwest Virginia Community College, Virginia Highlands Community College and Wytheville Community College “will work together to promote, develop and expand the training and development of a workforce prepared to enter” the supply chain manufacturing workforce in the offshore wind energy field, the MOU states.
“We are realistic about the number of people ready to go to work in manufacturing,” Wytheville Community College President Dean Sprinkle said in a statement. “As a result, we see the wind energy sector as an exciting and compelling path for people who may be ‘on the fence’ about a manufacturing career. Training workers and inspiring them to live and work in our region are elements of our mission in community colleges, and this is an enticing opportunity.”
InvestSWVA commissioned Aberdeen, Scotland-based energy consulting firm Xodus Group Ltd. to perform research for Project Veer, its initiative to help Southwest Virginia manufacturers find entry points in the supply chain for wind energy equipment components announced in December 2021. The firm recommended that regional community colleges sign an MOU formalizing their collaboration, and that the project’s members identify a “major tier company” to act as an anchor and help pave the way to form relationships with global equipment manufacturers
With the MOU signed, the next step in the process is for the colleges to form a leadership team with a senior official and at least one other representative from each college. The stakeholders will work closely with the commerce and trade secretariat, the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Virginia Department of Energy and legislators to identify the “major tier company.”
“We accelerated the pace of this first phase of Project Veer from six months to three, so that we could spend the next three months building a timeline around the MOU, a potential partnership with the Hampton Roads Alliance and figuring out how we coordinate centrally to seize this opportunity,” Payne said.
The other chief recommendations of Xodus Group’s report are for the project’s members to form such a partnership with the Hampton Roads Alliance, designate a regional entity to act as a single point of entry into offshore wind and coordinate an approach to retain the next generation of workers, including highlighting the advantages of offshore wind careers.
“Virginia’s Southwest is an answer, a resource and the place to be for wind energy manufacturers looking for business partners who can satisfy market demand in a quality fashion,” Payne said. “The agreement we announce today is foundational to our success not just in the wind energy industry but to our ability to rally around opportunity, together. The presidents of our community colleges are setting a great example.
“This is beyond brainstorming — it’s about action — and they are the catalysts,” he said.