$2.4M advanced manufacturing school opens in Burnsville

State and local dignitaries gathered here Monday to celebrate the opening of a $2.4 million advanced manufacturing school at Mayland Community College's Yancey Learning Center.

"Manufacturing is back in North Carolina and it's the future of North Carolina," Gov. Pat McCrory said to about 200 people just outside the new building's front doors.

"We've always heard that manufacturing was dead, that we had to find something new," McCrory told the crowd. "No. We gotta keep making, building and innovating things — and we gotta make sure we have the talent to do it."

Construction of the facility finished in February and 35 students already have begun training in vocations including machining and design, said Bill Baker, a board member of the community college's foundation.

Local company executives, elected officials and educators hope the Anspach Advanced Manufacturing Center will begin addressing the dearth of workers with engineering skills that regional and national employers seek, said Dr. William Anspach Jr.

"There are between 600,000 and 700,000 vacant jobs in our country that manufacturers can't fill because they can't find qualified workers," Anspach Jr. said.

He trained as an orthopedic surgeon, retired, then became an inventor and manufacturer of neurosurgical power tools.

The center bears Anspach's family name because the doctor and entrepreneur came up with the idea for the project four years ago and donated an undisclosed sum of money to help bring it to fruition, Baker said.

Many corporate and private donors also gave funding to make the training center a reality, said Beth Morris, a community college spokeswoman.

The Charlotte-based Duke Energy Foundation, for instance, gave $250,000 for the purchase of a three-dimensional metal printer.

Mayland Community College will become only the third institute of higher education in Western North Carolina with that piece of high-tech equipment, said school President John Boyd.

"A student using it could take titanium dust and print off an artificial knee," Boyd said. "It's the kind of the thing that will help this center be able to provide the level of workforce we haven't been able to provide before."

Another example: graduates of the program will be able to offer employers experience in mechatronics — a method of manufacturing that combines mechanical engineering, computing and electronics, Boyd said.

That's great news to those such as Henry Street, plant manager at the BRP Spruce Pine factory.

The Quebec, Canada-based company designs and manufactures recreational vehicles including the Sea-Doo Watercraft and Can-Am Roadster.

"This type of facility will help us reduce the time (our products will get) to market," Street said.

BRP is among the private-sector companies that contributed money to the center, Street said.

The company is looking to fill between 30 and 40 openings that pay from $12 an hour to $22 an hour, he said.

To make sure BRP and other companies like it begin receiving and continue to receive the workers they need, McCrory said North Carolinians should show children the career options they have starting in middle school.

"We have to communicate to them that this is one of the choices they can make," the governor said. "They can learn a skill, a vocation, a trade, in addition to building their intellectual capability."

McCrory emphasized that type of training won't earn them "just jobs, but careers. That's what people want," he said.

The manufacturing industry in North Carolina accounted for 11.1 percent of total employment in the state in 2013, higher than the national figure of 9 percent, according to the most recent data available from the state Department of Commerce.

In rural areas, the total was even higher, at 15.1 percent.