Forming a bond
Welder training program was a selling point for Italian company
When it comes to economic development outreach in the Shenandoah Valley, Blue Ridge Community College has a permanent seat at the table. Blue Ridge’s professional course offerings, licensure and certification programs, and custom training for businesses are designed to help meet the workforce needs of a variety of prospective employers.
“For companies looking at a particular region, workforce is often their No. 1 concern,” says BRCC President John Downey, a member of the board of directors of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership. “We have a history of working with companies to start programs that meet specific industry needs.”
In the case of Provides Metalmeccanica, an Italian manufacturer and supplier of heat exchangers for HVAC companies worldwide, Blue Ridge’s new 4,000-square-foot welding center, which opened in March off Interstate 81 in Mount Crawford, helped the company recruit workers for its first U.S. operation, in Augusta County.
“Welding is a huge need for this company,” says Amanda Glover, director of economic development in Augusta County. “Provides will be looking for ASME-certified welders — not just entry-level welders, but those who either have certification already or can easily get that certification. That’s very important to them.” (ASME, which was founded as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, is a New York-based standards organization.)
The college’s noncredit welding program offers courses in basic welding, intermediate welding and pipe welding and prepares graduates to earn industry certification. In response to the needs of Provides as well as a growing number of companies in the area, the BRCC welding center has added instructors and is offering additional sections of courses. Classes are taught twice a week in the morning, afternoon and evening. At any one time, there are approximately 60 people enrolled in the program.
“We’re very fortunate in the valley in that our vocational centers, our colleges and other technical training programs all work very well together,” Downey says. “But despite having some excellent welding programs, companies looked to us to pick up where the others were leaving off.”
In conjunction with BRCC’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, which opened in 2011, Blue Ridge is supplying high-tech companies with the skilled workers they will need for the future. “We feel like between these two buildings we’ll be able to meet the needs of industry here in the valley for many years to come,” Downey says. “Students who are technically trained will be the ones to succeed.”
Provides originated in Italy in 1968 as a company that specialized in the production of metallic office furniture. Between 1973 and 1980, it also specialized in the construction of racks, aluminum telephone booths and stepladders, and finally, in the production of pressurized gas tanks. In 1991, the company branched into the air-conditioning sector, and five years later it designed and manufactured the first series of heat exchangers for HVAC systems. Provides has since become a leader in the heat exchanger sector and expanded into China.
Another factor that led to Provides’ decision to locate in Augusta County was the opportunity to share space with one of its customers, Daikin Applied. The two companies will co-locate in a 40,000-square-foot facility in Verona. “Daikin made this project very easy,” Glover says. “It’s a great example of a private company and the public sector working together with economic development.”
Location was also a selling point. “Being in Verona, at the intersection of Interstates 81 and 64, they’ll be able to get their products to market quickly, whether they want to go north-south or east-west,” Glover said. “That’s a huge advantage.”
In addition, county officials have spent a lot of time connecting Provides with local service providers, including banking, payroll companies and information technology firms — “the whole range of things they need to get up and running,” Glover said.
The deal with Provides — which recently incorporated in Virginia as Provides U.S. Inc. — was largely finalized in November, although Glover said there is still a lot to be done on site in terms of converting the space and completing the initial round of new hires. Provides is expected to begin operating locally in the spring.
“Daikin Applied and Augusta County have worked hard to provide a smooth landing for Provides,” says Larry Willis, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, “and we look forward to supporting the company’s growth in the years to come.”