By Michael Buettner, The Progress-Index
PRINCE GEORGE — The world is beating a path to the county's door.
About two dozen journalists from eight countries across the globe recently gathered in Prince George for a tour of two facilities that are leading the way in advanced manufacturing, Rolls-Royce Crosspointe and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM).
The reporters hailed from industry publications and business-oriented newspapers and magazines in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, Germany and Japan. All had an interest in advanced manufacturing processes and technology — something the 5-year-old Rolls-Royce facility and the 2-year-old CCAM specialize in.
Fittingly, the tour was sponsored by a German company, Siemens AG, which also is a sponsor of CCAM and a leader in advanced manufacturing.
Rolls-Royce's top manager at Crosspointe, Lorin S. Sodell, gave the visitors a recap of the local facility's history and operations. He said the main reason U.K.-based Rolls-Royce decided to build a completely new factory from the ground up was because “We wanted a place we could call our own and establish our own culture,” a “high-performance culture.”
The company chose to build the new facility in the U.S. because “We recognize that American workers have the skillset we need. This is not low-skill work,” Sodell said. “We want to engage people's minds as well as their bodies in what we do every day.”
The Prince George site was chosen in part for its connectedness to the transportation network and in part because it gives the company room to expand as the market for its aircraft engine parts grows, while providing space for any suppliers who want to build facilities nearby.
In fact, the company has already gone through one major expansion. The original facility, which the company calls its Rotatives factory, opened in 2011, representing a $170 million investment and currently employing about 150 people. An adjoining building, called Turbines, opened about two years ago – an additional investment of about $136 million that already employs about 140 people and has plans to add more production lines in the near future as demand ramps up.
Demand for the company's products is already strong.
“We have more than $100 million in our order book right now,” Sodell noted. Customers for Rolls-Royce engines include Airbus, Boeing and Gulfstream, and the airplanes they're equipping with those engines represent “pretty much the newest aircraft in the industry today,” he said.
The journalists' tour also included CCAM, a partnership among more than 20 international manufacturing companies and five Virginia universities. Academic partners are Old Dominion University, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia State University. The corporate members include Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Alcoa and Siemens. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is also a partner.
To see what they took away from the tour, a couple of stories written by participating journalists are already available online; both are in Spanish: