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Not your Daddy’s textile mill

South Boston News
Bret Berneche of Cardinal Homes in Wylliesburg, from left, Jimmy Farlow of SIPS of America in Blairs and Crawford Murphy of MDS10 Architect in Asheville, N.C., discuss the future of manufacturing with moderator Katherine DeRosear, with the Virginia Manufacturers Association. The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center held a day-long conference Thursday. / September 20, 2012
Can manufacturing make a comeback in Southside Virginia? Speakers at Thursday’s Workforce Forward conference sponsored by the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center variously cited needed improvements to transportation infrastructure everywhere, the need for financing and the need for a workforce with "middle skills," which require more than a high school diploma but not necessarily a college degree.

Keynote speaker Harry Moser, founder of the Reshoring Initiative, which advocates that companies bring back their manufacturing to America, predicted that by 2015, there will be a convergence of costs between the Southern United States and China, making the U.S. far more competitive. Manufacturers flocked overseas some years ago in part due to a herd mentality, he said.

Observations by panelists:

• Dale Moore of Altavista, who owns Moore’s Electrical and Mechanical that employs 400 workers, said people need to be encouraged to value education. He also said some people are academically gifted and others are technically gifted. We are “sending too many to college that I think are technically gifted,” he said. Moore recently started Virginia Technical Institute, which has since partnered with Liberty University.

• Dr. Keith Williamson, dean of the School of Engineering, Science and Technology at Virginia State University, cited several factors in college success, among them: reducing the cost by doing dual enrollment in high school and getting students ready to take calculus by the time they leave high school. He also said that many kids get lost, academically, in middle school.

• Bret Berneche of Cardinal Homes in Wylliesburg, said problem-solving skills, critical thinking ability and math and science are important at his plant.

• Dr. Julie Brown, project director of the Dan River Region Collaborative, said students need to see job opportunities available in their own back yards.

The conference was sponsored by American National Bank, Davenport Energy/First Piedmont Waste Removal & Disposal, Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative and the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

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