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How the Triad workforce pipeline could boost marketing of Person County megasite

How the Triad workforce pipeline could boost marketing of Person County megasite

By Luke Bollinger
Reporter, Triad Business Journal

Jan 30, 2018

As Person County officials are readying the county's newly state certified megasite to attract a nanotech manufacturer, workforce development seems to be the biggest hurdle - an issue the Greensboro-based Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering could help mitigate. 

Joe Magno, executive director of the Greensboro-based  N.C. Center of Innovation Network (NC COIN), who acts as an adviser to Person County officials in their hunt to land a nanotech manufacturer, told Triad Business Journal that nanotech companies looking for manufacturing locations are concerned about power, water and location, but their main concern is a region's workforce. The Person County site is north of Roxboro, less than an hour from the eastern half of the Triad and 90 minutes from the western half.   

Before taking the helm at NC COIN, which is headquartered in the  Gateway University Research Park, Magno worked as the deputy commissioner of the New York-based Empire State Development Corp., where he helped land the largest semiconductor factory in the country at the time. 

According to Magno, the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, a partnership between  N.C. A&T State University and UNC-Greensboro, will play a big role in assuring potential companies the region is capable of supplying workers. As of right now, JSNN is poised to be a key player when it comes to nanotech training - offering four degrees from a $56.3 million, 105,000-square-foot science and engineering research facility. 

Magno told TBJ from his experience, the physical aspects of the Person County megasite, such as its location between two Duke Energy power plants, makes it very attractive to nanotech companies and will very soon be "pretty much shovel-ready." But the region's workforce, when being considered by a company, is "almost a separate issue," he said. 

The workforce issue is where Magno and Jim Ryan, dean of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, have been deeply involved since developers began preparing the site to market. 

Since 2013, Person County officials have been working to prepare the site in collaboration with Michael Solomon, a principal with the Greensboro office of the  Timmons Group consulting firm, to evaluate and secure the land. Stuart Gilbert, Person County economic director, told TBJ that Duke Energy and Piedmont Electric Membership Corp. have also been involved in the development process. 

"The Joint School is critical, but so are other resources," Magno said. 

Other resources necessary for enabling the state's workforce is a greater collaboration between JSNN, institutions such as N.C. State University and community colleges to provide a nanotech training curriculum. Magno said a program that helps provide template workforce training programs is  Guilford Technical Community College's Aviation Campus, which funnels students into the region's aviation sector. Forsyth Technical Community College also has a $16 million aviation campus in the works that will include hangar, shop and lab space.

Though no official programs are in the works, Magno said channels of communication with community colleges in Person County and the surrounding Triad and Triangle regions are open, making colleges much more aware "of the enormity of work that needs to be done."