Rep. Eric Cantor Discusses Work Force Development at CCAM and Rolls-Royce
By Sarah Steele Wilson, Newsroom Editor
Nov 29, 2012, 10:02
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson CCAM board of directors chairman Armand Lauzon and CEO Dave Lohr took representative Eric Cantor on the guided tour of the new facility and discussed the future of advanced manufacturing in the U.S.
House Majority Leader and Virginia representative Eric Cantor (R-7) visited Prince George County last Tuesday for a tour of the recently opened Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, where he learned about the public private partnership that fuels the operation.
Cantor also stopped by the Rolls-Royce Crosspointe facility to observe the advanced manufacturing work that takes place in the British aerospace giant’s first airplane engine component plant in the area.
“What you’re going to see when you walk through here is a collaboration of industry, universities and government, working effectively together,” said Armand Lauzon, Chief Executive Officer of Sequa Corporation and Chairman of the CCAM Board of Directors as he welcomed Cantor to the 62,000 square foot CCAM facility.
Today, CCAM serves 14 member companies, including Newport News Shipbuilding, Canon Virginia and Rolls-Royce, all of which have significant footprints in the state and were organizing members of the partnership. The $17.5 million facility, which is owned by the University of Virginia Foundation and built on land donated by Rolls-Royce, was paid for by grants from the federal Economic Development Administration, the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission and state recovery-act bonds. Inside the facility, industrial partners work with staff and students from the University of Virginia, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech on research and its manufacturing applications.
“You can see the public private partnership coming into reality,” said CCAM Executive Director Dave Lohr, describing the genesis of the facility, which began to come to life after Rolls-Royce decided to locate in Prince George.
“We think it’s a game changing opportunity and a great example of how you can bring public and private sectors and universities together and create innovation that’s just not possible without that kind of a relationship,” Lohr added.
Under a single master-research agreement, the three universities involved in the partnership will be able to do research on their own campuses or at the CCAM facility with the intellectual property owned by CCAM and its members.
CCAM is intended to function as a testing area for companies, where they can share concepts and findings and experiment with new ideas in a low risk environment that resembles a factory floor, but has no affect on actual production activities.
“The idea for industry is you make things before, you don’t experiment on the shop floor,” said William T. Powers III, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer for Rolls-Royce North America and a member of the CCAM board of directors.
Currently, the research and development taking place at CCAM is focused on surface engineering and manufacturing systems. Lohr said the initial focus was chosen based on the needs of the companies involved in the initial conversations around CCAM, as well as the capabilities of the participating universities.
In the future, CCAM is hoping to expand its member list to include 25 to 30 companies and federal partners, such as the NASA Langley Research Center, which is currently in conversations with the board.
After a tour of the facility, Cantor and leaders from CCAM and Rolls-Royce discussed the future of advanced manufacturing and the challenges that need to be addressed in a field Powers said offers the kind of jobs that will play a role in achieving a national goal.
“It’s the kind of jobs that will reinvigorate the middle class,” Powers said.
One of the major issues that emerged from the discussions is the need to develop a skilled work force in the United States.
“There is a void in the United States right now for skilled labor,” Lauzon told Cantor. “You hear that everywhere you go.”
Tom Loehr, executive vice president of the Rolls-Royce facility in Prince George, said that a strong work force is an enabler for growth and that a shortage of skilled workers is a problem that can deter a company from locating in an area.
“The number one risk on your risk register is the skill of the work force,” said Tom Loehr.
He said that when considering the probability of a venture’s success in a specific area, the first thing a company considers is the availability of skilled laborers and the means available to produce those laborers.
“You immediately go to the pipeline around workforce to give you an indication of the probability of success in that area,” he said.
In addition to speeding the transition from lab based ideas into market place products, CCAM is working to help develop the nation’s skilled work force, by involving students at UVA, VSU and Virginia Tech as an integral part of their mission and providing those students with an understanding of what real companies expect from their employees.
“That’s an incredibly important part of the partnership,” said Barry Johnson, Senior Associate Dean at UVA.
Many of the executives who accompanied Cantor on the tours of CCAM and Rolls-Royce expressed a need for broad based efforts to develop future employees, beginning with outreach to elementary school aged children and culminating in apprentice academies.
Loehr said that 95 percent of training centers for high precision metal machining, a skill that is essential to companies like Rolls-Royce and several others involved in CCAM, are teaching students on machines that are 60 years old.
“Students will not look at this and see a future in manufacturing,” Loehr said. “They’ll see it as irrelevant.”
Loehr advocated for public investment in developing a workforce that can fill manufacturing positions.
“I think that this is a major time to have a public revival in investment in technology relative to manufacturing,” Loehr said. “I would dare say we probably spend more money in this nation on grand pianos than we do training the next generation of technicians in manufacturing.”
Powers said that CCAM needs people in the federal government who understand the opportunities the model provides and are willing to advocate for such projects.
“We need the feds,” Powers said. “We’ve got the Commonwealth helping us, but we need a champion in Washington who sees the long term value in this proposition. It’s a national model.”
Loehr said that not all manufacturing is the same and that the United States can choose to focus on attracting and promoting manufacturing that can be described as advanced.
“We are going to have to make some value judgments around which manufacturing we go after,” he said.
Lauzon said that the United States is attractive to precisely that kind of manufacturing again by demonstrating the ability to deliver the kind of quality and process control required in creating high precision parts for items like jet engines that need to function consistently.
“At 40,000 feet, you can’t have a problem,” he said.
Cantor, who has become known on the national stage as an advocate for limited government, noted that several of the executives present had cited investments by the British government as a catalyst for growth of Roll-Royce’s manufacturing centers in the United Kingdom and as crucial to the process of creating CCAM.
“The discussion we’re going to have at the federal level is proper role for government,” he said, wondering why the government would need to play a role in training the work force.
“No one industrialist can go out and do this with a training center,” Loehr said, adding that it would never be affordable at the necessary scale. “It’s the perfect place for public policy to play. It’s not an industrial asset, it’s a public asset.”
Rolls-Royce has partnered with John Tyler Community College, to help develop a precision metal working program that teaches students what the company needs them to know, and has donated equipment to the program.
“My take away from all this is you want leadership at the national level on skill training and producing skilled workforce,” Cantor said.
Cantor framed the discussion in terms of topics that area currently dominating national attention.
“It’s all about what are we doing for jobs. The election was all about that, and, unfortunately, there was no specific prescription that came out of anything. We’re fussing over this fiscal cliff and tax policy, regulatory policy, but this, you’re telling me, as a capital allocator, is a much larger risk,” he said, referring to the question of labor force development. “You can work around the tax, the reg. or anything else.”
Cantor concluded his visit to the area with a tour of the shop floor at Rolls-Royce, where he viewed the production of discs for air-craft engines.