Proposed new center to boost aerospace industry

By FRED PACE

HD Media

LOGAN, W.Va. — Officials see the establishment of a manufacturing “proof of concept” and training center for Cabell and Wayne counties as a vital step toward getting aerospace manufacturing industry off the ground in the region.

Making such a center possible is a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI) at Marshall University to create “RCBI AERO.”

It will work to create dozens of jobs in the aerospace industry and spur more than $1 million in private investment, according to RCBI Director & CEO Charlotte Weber.

The goals of proof of concept centers are to identify innovations that can be commercialized and assist in creating high-growth, successful companies, according to the EDA.

“This grant is a major step in launching a regional aerospace manufacturing industry in southern West Virginia,” Weber said. “Our area’s existing infrastructure, available workforce and strategic partnerships make us an ideal recipient of this Regional Innovation Strategies award from the EDA.”

Weber says a 2016 feasibility study commissioned by the Huntington Area Development Council (HADCO) confirmed that Cabell and Wayne counties are well positioned to support and expand the region’s aerospace industry. She said the study cited assets such as Tri-State Regional Airport, the 95-acre Tri-State Aeroplex industrial and business development site near the airport, RCBI, supportive leadership in a variety of public and private organizations and the existence of established aerospace manufacturers such as Level 1 Fasteners and Star Technologies, both of Huntington, and Carbon Fiber Composites of Ona.

In creating the center, Weber explained that RCBI will partner with the West Virginia Development Office, Marshall University Research Corporation, Marshall’s Lewis College of Business, the West Virginia Small Business Development Center, HADCO, the Wayne County Economic Development Authority and Region 2 Workforce Investment Board to deliver a broad base of client services.

Those services include access to advanced technology and expertise; market research, evaluation and business planning; technology transfer services, such as copyright, trademark, patent and intellectual properties protection; connections to contracting and supply chain opportunities, both public and private; links to private investment partners; and workforce training to meet specific industry demands.

The launch of this initiative in West Virginia follows efforts in northeast Kentucky over the past year to attract and develop businesses related to the aerospace industry.

In Kentucky, Ashland Community and Technical College is developing an associate degree program for residents seeking jobs that could pay an average of about $70,000 per year at the Braidy Industries aluminum mill expected to be built in South Shore, Kentucky.

Braidy Industries is the first company to commit to bringing aerospace manufacturing to Eastern Kentucky.

The company announced plans in August to build a $1.3 billion, 2.5 million-square-foot aluminum mill that will create 550 full-time jobs. Construction is scheduled to start next year and it could take more than two years to build the mill that will produce aluminum for the automotive and aerospace industries. Last year, officials in Boyd and Greenup counties in Kentucky sought and received certification for that area as an AERO ready region. AEROready certification is designed to help communities showcase advantages to aerospace-related companies, prepare marketing for recruitment, and give assurance to private industry that an independent firm has verified the region can support them.

Preliminary plans at ACTC call for the development of specialized course programs that include an associate degree in material sciences and advanced manufacturing, according to Dr. Kay Adkins, college president and chief executive officer.

Aerospace includes making parts for aviation and space flight and has increased more than 100 percent nationwide in the past five years, officials say.

Regarding the grant to RCBI, U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., said it is a major step in launching a regional aerospace manufacturing industry.

“It will help to further diversify the economic base of southern West Virginia,” Jenkins said. “The center will focus on leveraging existing resources and preparing local manufacturers to enter the aerospace industry, which will strengthen the long-term economic base of the region.”

RCBI estimates that within five years the program would have assisted about 120 entrepreneurs and businesses, created 90 new jobs, and leveraged $1.65 million in private investment, according to Weber.

“As a pilot myself, I look forward to the growth and development of the aerospace industry in West Virginia,” U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said. “Marshall University is producing some of the best students and researchers in our state, and these funds will allow West Virginia businesses to diversify job opportunities available in the state.”

“West Virginia is doing an incredible job of finding new and innovative ways to spark economic growth in our state,” U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said. “The aerospace manufacturing industry provides another opportunity to diversify and grow our economy, and this funding will help prepare our workforce to seize it. I’m excited to see the good work Marshall does with these resources to help build a better, stronger economic future for West Virginia.”

RCBI is one of 42 Regional Innovation Strategies awardees nationwide – and the only one in West Virginia – announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce. This is only the second such award in West Virginia and the first for the southern region.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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