Business-Led Collaboration Works to Boost Manufacturing, Joins Network of North Carolina Sector Partnerships

November 19 , 2021 (Wilmington, N.C.) – What began late last year as a Zoom meeting among regional manufacturing managers will soon become a permanent association. The Cape Fear Manufacturing Partnership pulls together officials from leading industrial companies in Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover and Pender counties to provide support, share solutions and act as a united voice for a competitive manufacturing economy in Greater Wilmington. 

“We were formed to address some issues we all have in common, and we’re taking both a long-and short-term approach to these things,” explained Jim Flock, general manager at Blair-HSM in Leland. The company, part of Italy’s Magnaghi Aeronautica Group (MA Group), manufactures landing gear components and provides aviation maintenance, overhauling and repair services. Flock is de facto chair of the Cape Fear Manufacturing Partnership, which hopes to incorporate as a non-profit organization by the end of the year. “That’s one of the things we’re working on,” he said. 

Flock and other manufacturing leaders hope to keep the group business-driven. It has received organizational support from the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board, Brunswick Business & Industry Development, and Wilmington Business Development. “This is a long-term project, and I hope it will be a viable entity for the community,” continued Flock. The group hopes to build a cooperative to spark efficiencies in purchasing, for example. But its most urgent priority is the current workforce shortage. “Labor is the main thing right now,” Flock said. 

To address the workforce needs of members, Flock and other Partnership founders are reaching out to community college leaders and K-12 school system officials to build an ongoing dialogue with educators and students. With the coordination of the Cape Fear Workforce Development Board, the group has met with top personnel at Brunswick Community College, Cape Fear Community College and Southeastern Community College. “They are all in,” said Eric Barton, vice president for supply chain at TriTech Forensics. “This is their strong suit, and they’re definitely on board.” 

TriTech, which makes evidence collection kits and digital forensics equipment, relocated to the region from Durham in 1994, operating in Southport for 23 years before moving to Leland. Barton is among the leaders volunteering time and energy to the Partnership, which aims to pool expertise and clout to advocate for manufacturing as a viable career choice among the region’s young people. “High schools are positive about it as well,” he said. The group has spoken to Career and Technical Education (CTE) directors in the four counties and is seeking a presence on career day programs and at job fairs. The Partnership wants to build permanent ties between manufacturing businesses, middle schools and high schools, in order to forge a strategic pipeline of industry-ready workers. “It won’t happen overnight,” Barton said. “The fruits of our labor may not be seen for five or ten years.”

The move also has support from the Governor’s Office and the N.C. Department of Commerce, which sees the Partnership as a replicable model for sharpening the competitive edge of the state’s manufacturing sector. In 2019, Governor Cooper announced North Carolina’s sector partnership initiative to provide support to business-led partnerships and boost the state’s high-demand industries.  Regions receive support, technical assistance and coaching to promote a coordinated strategy among workforce, economic development, and education organizations to meet the needs of businesses. An ongoing collaboration between the Governor’s Office, the North Carolina Community College System, the N.C. Department of Commerce, the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC), the NCWorks Commission, and the North Carolina Association of Workforce Development Boards is working toward creating the right environment for sector partnerships to launch and thrive. 

“Regional groups like the Cape Fear Manufacturing Partnership exemplify the NC Job Ready approach we have taken, which emphasizes employer leadership,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “By working together and identifying what businesses need, we can help grow our economy and fill the jobs that our state’s innovative manufacturers create.”

“With sector partnerships, businesses set the agenda, and we help bring together experts in fields like economic development, workforce development and education,” N.C. Commerce Secretary Machelle Baker Sanders said. “Our state’s new ‘First in Talent’ strategic plan calls for expanding sector partnerships to more regions and industries, and we are excited to see how the progress made in the Cape Fear region can serve as an example for additional initiatives in the future.”

“By taking advantage of the existing infrastructure of local workforce boards, and their partnerships with community colleges and business development organizations, we will enable new manufacturing partnerships to spring up all over the state, addressing the issues we all face,” said Flock.

Alongside Blair-HSM and TriTech Forensics are a host of around 30 regional manufacturers including Mojotone, Acme Smoked Fish, GE, Corning, Pacon, Polyhose, Flow Sciences, Southern Industrial, Victaulic and others that partner in the initiative. 

About the Author

You may also like these