Finding ways to help smaller manufacturers in southwest Virginia
February 22, 2019
Transportation is not something that is thought about more than a vehicle that enables products or people from be transported from Point A to Point B. But as more products move across the nation at higher rates and demand for next day delivery increases, transportation is moving beyond Point A and Point B. Transportation logistics hubs determine how goods and services are transported because they act as distribution networks allowing freer flowing of goods and services within a region. But would happen if your region did not have this capability?
The Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development was contacted by stakeholders in the manufacturing industry to access the regional benefit of building a transportation and logistics hub in Southwest Virginia. Far beyond the Virginia 81 corridor, nowhere near a major highway in Kentucky, Tennessee, or West Virginia, lays little mountain towns with a robust manufacturing industry, trying to break into the market. Yet, with limited access to highways and rails, opportunities to break into the market fall slim.
The project will evaluate and assess the associated opportunities, barriers, possible costs, benefits, and other considerations. This exploratory and preliminary analysis will be beneficial in determining the potential positive and negative outcomes of such a project before investing additional time and money into pursuing it more actively. By assessing the viability of such a facility in this region, it could impact the potential manufacturing capabilities of a region working on revitalization and allow businesses, industries, and people to grow and thrive.
Staff at the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development have spoken with stakeholders within the community, manufacturing industry, across the region, and across the state to determine the viability of such a facility beyond the normal transportation paths. A transportations logistics hub could allow for an increase in resources to be supplied to the region. As one stakeholder noted, deliveries of goods and supplies happen about once per week, driven in on trucks or delivered on rails. By adding such a hub in the region, this could allow for products to be stored within the facility, trucks to have a place to stay, and an increase in jobs in across the manufacturing industry, from drivers, to suppliers, to manufacturers.
VT researchers surveyed and interviewed manufacturers to better understand this phenomenon. The study confirmed the underutilization of assistance resources stemmed from a lack of information and awareness about resources. Manufacturers reported the perception that their company’s needs might be too specialized for generic assistance programs, trainings were too far from their location, and that some felt they had little decision making power within their parent company to adopt assistance processes and improvements.
Albert Alwang noted, that some of the manufactures remaining in southwest Virginia described a feeling of being lefts behind. “As economic shifts hinder individual companies, the whole regional network of manufacturers suffers. The support and communication networks that once held these economies and communities together are damaged,” stated Alwang.
Although, workforce development and technical assistance organizations create programming aimed at supporting manufacturers through these challenging economic conditions, the networks needed to connect industry, public sector, and non-profit resource providers have been weakened, as rural manufacturing has declined in terms of overall numbers.
The research team recommended strategies for workforce development and technical assistance providers to better communicate with companies, and to offer services tailored to individual firm needs or shared needs among smaller groups of manufacturers.
Sarah Lyon-Hill explained, “The impact of accessing these resources could be significant for the manufacturing industry. The point of this research was to identify the missing components that better connect manufacturers with these support services. I am hopeful that with research like this, these two groups may form more beneficial and lasting partnerships, contributing to a rejuvenated economic landscape for the U.S. manufacturing industry.”
Written By: Jennifer Morgan