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Golden Leaf invests $200k into high school machining program

Mar 21, 2019

REIDSVILLE – Another community partnership is leading to the growth of local workforce development.

Dan Gerlach, president of the Golden Leaf Foundation, on March 14 presented a $200,000 check to Rockingham County Schools, for the formation of a manual machining lab at Reidsville High.

Partners in the project include Rockingham Community College, Rockingham County Schools, the City of Reidsville, the Reidsville Industrial Alliance, the Reidsville Area Foundation, and the Education Foundation.

The machining lab will feature five manual lathes and five manual mills, along with other equipment and tools, which will be paid for with the Golden Leaf funds.

A $132,000 renovation will be needed at Reidsville High to accommodate the lab, in preparation for an expected launch in time for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Rockingham Community College will provide the machining instructors for the program.

Dr. Mark Kinlaw, president of the college, said workforce is a complex issue locally, statewide and nationwide.

“We have to do some very strategic things to try to put students in a pathway where they can be successful. We know there are needs in machining. It is our responsibility to serve our employers and to produce graduates that are ready to go to work,” Kinlaw said. “In this case, they’ll be able to get a manual machining certificate. They can go to work with that after high school, but they could come to (RCC’s) computer integrated machining program and continue their education and then go to work.”

Addressing workforce issues will help keep current employers in Rockingham County and promote expansion, as well as will attract new industry – all measures that impact the local economy.

Kinlaw thanked Gerlach and Golden Leaf for believing in and supporting the initiative.

“I’m very excited about it. This is an example of a number of things we have going on in our county to … put students in a position where they can enter pathways and go to work,” Kinlaw said.

While a school machining lab may not fall within the realm of what the Reidsville City Council traditionally handles, the future of the city and its current upward swing is important to the council, said Mayor Jay Donecker. “This is not a Reidsville thing; this is a Rockingham County thing.”

Dr. Rodney Shotwell, superintendent of Rockingham County Schools, said great things can happen when people with the same vision and goals in a community start talking.

“Rockingham County and Reidsville are a great place to live and raise your children. But we also want to make it a great place for people that when they leave high school or leave college, they want to come back and work here,” he said. “It takes one step at a time, and this is really a strong step here because a machining program will add a huge benefit.”

Steve Scott, president of Reidsville manufacturer Tri-State Steel and president of the Reidsville Industrial Alliance, said at the alliance’s very first meeting, Reidsville Economic Development Director Jeff Garstka polled local heavy industrial manufacturing leaders about the most important thing the alliance could offer them.

With an overwhelming reply of, “We need skilled workers,” Garstka pulled together RCC and the county school system, and the manual machining program at Reidsville High transpired.

“(It) will produce workforce-ready students immediately upon graduating from high school,” Scott said. “The beauty of it, they can also further their education at RCC.”

He said work on establishing the program would not have been possible without help from Dr. Kenny Scott’s Career & Technical Education Department and Lydia Craddock, both with the county school system.

In introducing Gerlach, Scott said, “In communities throughout our state, (Golden Leaf) makes magic happen like this.”

Gerlach said when he became president of the Golden Leaf Foundation in 2008, Rockingham County’s unemployment rate was about 12 percent.

“We didn’t have a problem of what to do with people; we needed jobs to put people in. Now 10 years later, the unemployment rate here is very low,” he said.

The Foundation invested in the machining lab because the business community said it has jobs that need people – and the local government, college and school system responded, Gerlach said, noting that the project received the maximum funding amount possible.

“The problem is, how do we encourage the supply of kids to come in? It’s up to all of us to talk about that,” Gerlach said.

“What are the next generations of our families going to do, if it’s not tobacco, it’s not cigarette manufacturing and that type of old-school work?” he asked.

Gerri Hunt is director of public information at Rockingham Community College. She can be reached at huntg0780@rockinghamcc.edu or 336-342-4261 ext. 2170.

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