Southwest Virginia workforce driving more IT business to the region
June 11, 2008
LEBANON – June 11, 2008 – The Executive Advisory Board of the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) heard an update on economic development progress yesterday at its annual meeting, including a report from one of its newest members that the quality of work done by southwest Virginians at its new IT facility in Lebanon is driving more business to the region.
“At first we thought this facility would only serve Virginia and the federal government, but we’ve found that the quality of the work done here is leading to companies all across the country who are willing to put their software development in the hands of CGI’s local Southwest Virginia Center of Excellence,” said Anna DeFazio Gadbois, vice president, government relations and strategic business development for CGI, and a new member of the VCEDA advisory board.
“Workforce Preparedness in an Energy and Technology Economy” was the topic of yesterday’s meeting with speakers from technology, education and energy providing updates on progress in Virginia’s e-Region which represents electronic information technology, energy and education in the seven-county, one city coalfield region.
Representatives from Northrop Grumman and CGI, who opened new multi-million dollar technology centers in Lebanon last year, said finding qualified employees has not been a problem for their companies thanks to FastTrack and other degree programs at the community colleges and the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, and aggressive college recruiting touting the virtues of having a good job and living in a rural area with outstanding quality of life.
James Tiscornia, program manager for Northrop Grumman’s Southwest Enterprise Solutions Center, said the center in the Russell Regional Business Technology Park “is a key node in Northrop Grumman’s network of data centers.” He said the Lebanon facility is part of a new company initiative, one of seven National Workforce Centers, that provides high-quality, cost-effective technology centers within the U.S. as an alternative to off-shoring.
“We select locations that offer a ready talent pool and a comparatively low operating cost, and it provides enhanced quality of life for our employees. This center also offers high tech jobs that contribute to economic development,” said Tiscornia.
Lyn Tatum, human resource consultant at CGI’s Southwest Virginia Center of Excellence, also located in the Russell technology park, said CGI has several priorities for 2008, including hiring more than 100 new employees by year’s end. She said CGI’s employees in the southwest Virginia center show “more attention to detail and customer service and that tends to show up in feedback from customers who give us stellar reviews of our on-site staff.”
Jonathan Belcher, executive director of VCEDA, said more than 1,000 new jobs were announced in the region in 2007, and that with pending announcements in 2008, over 171 additional new jobs soon would be announced. He also noted that a strong regional energy industry is helping to stabilize the region’s economy, as compared to the slowdown being reported in national economic conditions.
“Skills attainment is the new currency of economic development,” said Mark R. Graham, chairman of the Virginia State Board for Community Colleges, who addressed the advisory group about the role of workforce development in Virginia’s new economy. He said the community college system is assuming a greater role in education and training in workforce and economic development.
Dr. David Prior, chancellor of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, outlined the role of higher education in preparing the region’s workforce. He said the university’s partnership role in economic development is “enormous” and outlined plans for the establishment of a technology demonstration site and support network at UVA-Wise. He said this idea under development would feature UVA-Wise as a demonstration site for “technological solutions” for business and industry, rural K-12 school systems and local and regional governments.
George Owens, vice president of human resources for Alpha Natural Resources, joined James K. Martin, senior vice president, Dominion Virginia Power, to give updates on the region’s energy industry and its workforce needs.
Owens said 30 percent of Alpha’s total coal production is in Virginia where the company is the state’s largest producer. He said Alpha is a regional partner in economic development citing the thousands of acres of post-mining land in Buchanan County that is now available for new industry and the company’s participation in the development of the Coalfields Expressway in Virginia and the King Coal Highway in West Virginia.
Martin said Dominion is actively involved in the community and described a proposed Hybrid Energy Center in Wise County as unique because it will use run-of-mine coal, biomass and gob piles. “This energy center is good for the environment because it will clean up gob piles, burn 20 percent of renewable biomass and reduce emissions,”
The executive advisory group, created in 1990, is comprised of Virginia business leaders who provide advice and serve as liaisons and contacts in marketing the VCEDA region.
Members of the executive advisory board include: Eva Teig Hardy, senior vice president, External Affairs and Corporate Communications, Dominion Virginia Power Co., chairperson; R. Daniel Carson Jr., vice president, External Affairs, Appalachian Power; Anna DeFazio Gadbois, vice president, Government Relations and Strategic Business Development, CGI; Don M. Green, executive director, Napoleon Hill Foundation; Linwood Holton, former Virginia Governor, McCandlish Holton; Tommy Hudson, president, Virginia Coal Association; Cheryl L. Janey, civil programs, Harris Corporation; Michael D. King, director, Strategy and Business Development, Northrop Grumman Corp., IT Sector; Joshua N. Lief, Virginia International Raceway; A. George Mason Jr., attorney at law.; Ford C. Quillen, retired Circuit Court judge; Daniel D. Smith, senior vice president, Energy and Properties, Norfolk Southern Corp.; Robert W. Woltz Jr., president, Verizon Virginia Inc.