Pavlik and Associates, a public relations firm in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in public and corporate engagement, has been selected to conduct a review of skilled training needs for aerospace companies locating at the 105-acre site at Raleigh County Memorial Airport.
“The development of aerospace manufacturing and innovation opportunities is one of the most compelling ways to diversify and grow the economy in southern West Virginia,” said Jina Belcher, executive director of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority (NRGRDA). “Coming off the recent announcement of the $8.3 million site development at the airport, we want our workforce to be ready for the new companies locating at our Airport Industrial Park.”
Belcher said the aerospace education and workforce study will be completed in 10 months and offer a roadmap for collaborating institutions – New River Community and Technical College (NRCTC) and West Virginia University Institute of Technology (WVU Tech) – to address the two- and four-year degree programs needed. She noted the recent focus on development of the airport site and creation of new jobs has caused many local citizens to contact both institutions to inquire about their respective aerospace and aviation training programs.
This work is being funded by a $50,000 Appalachian Regional Commission POWER grant awarded to NRGRDA in 2020 as well as a matching award of the same amount from American Electric Power (AEP).
In 2020, both New River Gorge Regional Development Authority and Greenbrier Valley Economic Development Partnership, along with their respective airports – Raleigh County Memorial Airport and Lewisburg Airport – received a trademarked AEROReady designation for a combined 11-county area.
Belcher said the study identified the ease of transferability of skills possessed by displaced coal industry workers into the aerospace industry.
New River Community and Technical College President Bonny Copenhaver has been involved in workforce conversations since the inception of the project.
“Recognizing and targeting our already skilled workforce allows the partners involved to have a jump start on training and recruitment to a newly developed aerospace training program,” Copenhaver said. “With campuses strategically located in Princeton, Beaver and Lewisburg, and serving a combined nine-county area, we are committed to develop a new Aviation Mechanic Training school to help train a workforce that could have guaranteed employment at neighboring aerospace companies.”
Also located within the footprint of the 11-county project area, WVU Tech has agreed to partner its existing two-year Aviation Engineering program with New River Community and Technical College to develop a 2+2 aerospace program of study.
WVU Tech Campus President Carolyn Long said students agreeing to and completing all four years of training and coursework will graduate with the skillsets and training needed to excel in aviation mechanics and maintenance positions. She added that the average entry level wage after earning this degree is $60,000 to $80,000 annually.
Belcher said Pavlik and Associates can fill the gaps and work with the Federal Aviation Administration and other technical and regulatory bodies to conduct the workforce assessment and recommendations.