June 16, 2017


MARTINSVILLE, Va. –Rob Spilman, President and CEO of Bassett Furniture Industries, and Senator Bill Stanley, NCI Board Chair, hosted a roundtable discussion with industry leaders on Tuesday at New College Institute (NCI). Spilman welcomed about 35 business leaders from the region to share updates on new and innovative academic programs and training opportunities to be offered at NCI as well as to hear valuable feedback about local industry and employment needs from the attendees. 


During his remarks, Senator Stanley shared the vision for NCI’s future, including academic areas of focus, which include engineering/advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity/information technology, healthcare, and community/educational leadership. In addition to these four focus areas, NCI is placing a heightened emphasis on experiential, hands-on learning.  NCI exists, Stanley emphasized, to retain jobs, grow more jobs, and to attract new industries to the region. He and NCI Executive Director Dr. Leanna Blevins both believe that this will be accomplished by working directly with business and industry.


“We want to create programs that are responsive to the needs of industry along with hands-on experiences so that our graduates are truly job ready from the moment they are hired,” said Stanley.


NCI’s primary goal is to “offer the highest quality education at the lowest price” so that students can achieve the qualifications needed to fill jobs for existing and future industry needs, added Stanley.

John Parkinson, CEO of Drake Extrusion Inc., highlighted the need for engineers in our community. “When I look at engineers in our company, 90% of them are over the age of 45,” which reinforces the need to create opportunities for young people to “get excited” and pursue these engineering degrees in order to fill future vacancies. “This program is vital not only to maintain Drake but to grow it.”


Charles Fraley of Eastman shared the same concerns in filling vacant jobs, particularly within engineering. Fraley cited that Eastman has had success with recruiting through the Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing (CAFM), but there is still a greater need for qualified employees. “Sometimes recruiting in our area can be difficult, particularly for workers with an engineering background. We are excited about NCI’s new focus areas,” added Fraley. 


Peter Basica of J. P. Superior Solutions is already utilizing services at NCI to improve his workforce. “We need to do things cheaper, better, and faster than our competitors who are producing overseas. NCI is a way for me to achieve that goal through rapid prototyping. Now that my employees are doing additional training at NCI on Saturdays, their growth and advancement has been phenomenal. To me, NCI is like an incubator. NCI will really help me grow my business,” said Basica.


Amanda Witt, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce noted that NCI is well suited to provide continuing education and training needed for local employers. “I see a lot of opportunities for NCI to fill that need locally so that money does not leave Martinsville-Henry County. With NCI’s new focus areas, we can keep training dollars local and invest in what we have,” said Witt.


NCI Executive Director, Dr. Blevins, thanked the attendees for their presence and their candor. She encouraged each of them to be in close contact with her and others at NCI, stressing the importance of their leadership and involvement to make the experiential and hands-on valuable for students and for their companies.


This roundtable discussion was the first of several as NCI re-engages professional and community advisory committees this year. The creation of a local business advisory committee will assist in NCI’s development of academic curriculum that is responsive to the needs of existing and future industries in the area.