Rear Admiral Scott Pappano speaking after the ribbon-cutting. Photo by Grace Mamon.

The United States Navy is expanding its presence in Danville. 

An existing Navy pilot program focuses on developing a new workforce for shipbuilding at Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. That program is called Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing. (See our previous story, “How Danville has become a center for shipbuilding trades.”)

Every four months, it graduates a new cohort of students in disciplines like additive manufacturing, CNC machining, quality control inspection (also called metrology), and welding. These are crucial skills for the defense industrial base. 

And now, the Navy is officially locating on IALR’s campus with the launch of the Navy Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. This facility will work alongside the workforce development already happening there. 

Additive manufacturing is the process of creating something by building onto it. It is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, which cuts away at a solid block of material to form an object. 

The ribbon-cutting for this center was today in Danville during the second ATDM summit hosted by the IALR.

The Center of Excellence will provide sustainable and scalable production in the submarine industrial base and develop processes and technologies for additive manufacturing. 

Once these processes and technologies are developed, you need people who know how to work the technology, said Rachel Spencer, vice president of strategic communications at AccessU, a Roanoke-based marketing and advertising firm that helped coordinate the event. 

That’s where ATDM comes in. 

Basically, ATDM creates the workforce, and the Center of Excellence creates the processes to deliver to additive manufacturers (and companies that are looking to get into additive manufacturing). 

“They go hand-in-hand,” Spencer said. “One is on the workforce side and one is on the manufacturers’ side, and they play together.”

The Center of Excellence “will help drive additive manufacturing capacity to a scale that will significantly impact submarine industrial base capacity,” according to information from IALR. 

And this is crucial, because one of the “biggest risks for the industrial base” is a dwindling workforce, said Navy Rear Admiral Scott Pappano in an interview after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

Manufacturing in America has “atrophied,” Pappano said, adding that the country’s manufacturing workforce has declined in recent years. 

But the Center of Excellence, with ATDM, is expected to bring 800 to 1,000 students annually, once it reaches full operation in 2024. 

It will be housed in the State of Virginia’s Center for Manufacturing Advancement on IALR’s campus, a $28.8-million, 51,250-square-foot building that opened today. The Navy is its first tenant. (See our previous story, “Danville’s Center for Manufacturing Advancement to open today.”)

Navy officers and community leaders cutting the ribbon. Photo by Grace Mamon.

This is the “major economic announcement” that the IALR alluded to in an Oct. 3 press release about the opening of the CMA. 

The Navy will occupy three high bays of the CMA for the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence. 

Through the Center of Excellence and ATDM, the Navy will work with industry and the Office of the Secretary of Defense to “focus on attracting, recruiting, developing, placing and retaining” individuals with skills in welding, machining, metrology, and additive manufacturing. 

“These highly skilled workers will succeed in career-oriented, family-sustaining jobs that are vital to the Navy and the nation,” according to information from the IALR. 

Also announced today was an expansion of the ATDM program into a 100,000-square-foot regional training facility adjacent to the CMA. This is a multi-million-dollar investment, and the added space will allow the program to rapidly scale-up to its full potential. 

The Danville and Pittsylvania County Regional Industrial Facility Authority provided land for this expansion. It was funded by partnerships with the Department of Defense and other players in the industrial base sector, though the full funding details aren’t available to the public yet, Spencer said. 

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at the event. Photo by Grace Mamon.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin said during his remarks at the IALR this morning that the Center for Excellence and ATDM program make Virginia “the maritime center of gravity for the United States Navy.”

He also said that the 700,000 veterans that live in Virginia would be great candidates for these jobs. 

“When you think about advanced manufacturing, our veterans are supremely compatible with this calling,” he said. “They have a unique understanding of the application of the work that is going on and they understand the requirements of our defense industrial base.”

Veterans play a huge part in the future of the commonwealth, Youngkin said, as do the 150,000 active duty and reserve military members in Virginia. 

“This is a huge part of our workforce of the future,” he said. 

These announcements coincided with IALR’s second Accelerated Training and Defense Manufacturing summit. The summit brought federal, state, local and industry stakeholders together “on topics pertaining to closing skills and workforce gaps within the defense industrial base,” an Oct. 3 release said. 

United States Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro was the keynote speaker of the summit. He was joined by other defense leaders, legislators, and industry groups, who discussed the challenges and opportunities that come with building a labor pool to support emerging technologies for the country’s shipbuilding industry. 

But combining industry and education in one facility can combat those challenges, Youngkin said. 

“At the end of the day, [this] is going to meet a need that we are behind in,” he said. “America’s own national security depends on this capability, depends on us having this accelerated manufacturing, this advanced manufacturing capacity. And I’m so pleased that it’s right here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

This diagram shows off the anticipated expansion of the program. Photo by Grace Mamon.

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.