FCDI executive director, Terri Willingham, with board member Chuck Stephens at Greenville Tech’s CMI

At the invitation of the ARM Institute, FCDI headed up to Greenville, South Carolina this past week to meet with ARMs Chief Workforce Officer, Rebecca Hartley, and the amazing folks at Greenville Technical College , Spartanburg Community College and the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (SCMEP).   The idea was to learn some best practices that might be helpful in our efforts to build the Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing & Robotics Center (AMRoC) and to provide the most effective educational platforms and related workforce development support.  Did we ever!

L-R, SCCs Jay Coffer, Chuck Spangler of SCMEP, CMIs David Clayton, Rebecca Hartley of ARM Institute & FCDIs Chuck Stephens.

Our biggest take away is right up our alley: The invaluable and principal need to collaborate, collaborate, collaborate!  Additionally,  open minded and innovative leadership at the state and local level, and the agility to pivot quickly and adapt where needed,  is critical to the creation of powerful learning platforms like Greenville Tech’s Center for Manufacturing Innovation, in collaboration with Clemson University,  Spartanburg Community College’s Spark Center and the impressive economic growth that Greenville has been experiencing for the last few years.

In addition to meeting with the academic partners in Greenville, we also got to visit with Jonathan Smith, of Automation Engineering Company (AEC)  to see the great work he’s doing there, and to learn how collaboration, a focus on lean manufacturing and the adoption of robotics is helping his medium sized company have big company impact on his bottom line and in the community. There we also met up with Chuck Spangler, President of the SC Manufacturing Extension Partnership, who was our warm and imminently helpful guide for all things manufacturing related in Greenville.

Center for Manufacturing Innovation

A tour of the Center for Manufacturing Innovation, with Executive Director David Clayton,  brought us more insights on how to best configure AMRoC with the most useful tools and resources for providing effective science, tech and manufacturing education and training.  We even got an unscheduled but deeply appreciated tour of the Spark Center at the Tyger River campus of Spartanburg Community College, a cavernous 360,000+ sf gem of economic development space , led by the infectiously enthusiastic Jay Coffer, Department Chair of Advanced Manufacturing Technologies for SCC, and Leanne Burkhead, Director of the Center.

The Spark Center

The Spark Center is a brilliant concept, a re-purposed commercial warehouse and distribution facility collaboratively managed by SCC and the Spartanburg County Office of Economic Development, where up to a dozen start up or expanding companies can apply to call the Spark Center home, completely free of charge for up to one year, in exchange to establishing their business in the area.

David Clayton and Jay Coffer, with Chuck Stephens at CMI

While all of these places,  people and concepts are amazing and inspiring, these ideas are not exclusive to South Carolina, and certainly not out of reach for us here in Tampa Bay.  That’s why Greenville shares what they do, so that others can do it, too.

The secret sauce to bridging the workforce skills gap and driving true economic development here or anywhere isn’t all that secret and it’s also pretty basic. It’s what FIRST teams learn starting in elementary school LEGO League programs: cooperation, collaboration, Gracious Professionalism and “coopertition.”  There’s no one solution to the challenges facing our communities, but all the solutions we need are right in here in our communities, and through AMRoC we hope to bring as many of them together as possible.

Thank you to the ARM Institute for setting up our visit and to the great folks in Greenville who made our visit so enjoyable and rewarding.