Advanced Manufacturing Keeps Rolling in Virginia

Virginia’s growing advanced manufacturing community provides goods and services to customers across the globe. With nearly 6,000 manufacturers, our diverse industry base spans a variety of products—from steel beams and semiconductors to chocolate and rocket engines. Virginia is home to some of the most respected companies in the world, including DuPont, Rolls-Royce, Kraft Foods and Canon Virginia.

Virginia’s success in manufacturing can be contributed to an array of factors. Our central East Coast location provides interstate and rail access to the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest, allowing 43 percent of the U.S. population to be within a 10-hour drive. One of the Commonwealth’s most unique assets, the Port of Virginia, is one of the three busiest container ports on the U.S. East Coast and a leading gateway for the entire U.S. market. The Port boasts the single best infrastructure on the East Coast, with a 50-foot ice-free channel, no overhead obstructions, on-dock rail service (two Tier 1 railroads), easy access to ocean lanes, and is the only East Coast port with Congressional authorization to dredge to 55 feet.

And then there’s our second-to-none higher education system, for which many programs have been specifically designed to support the manufacturing industry. Virginia’s universities and community colleges support manufacturers by offering degrees and training to educate the manufacturing workforce of the 21st century. Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Old Dominion

University and Virginia Commonwealth University are just a few of the colleges that graduate world-class engineers annually. Our 23 community colleges ensure manufacturers have a pipeline of skilled technicians and provide non-degree training.

Governor McAuliffe often refers to advanced manufacturing as the cornerstone of the new Virginia economy—a well-deserved title for the bustling industry, which employs more than 242,000 workers. In the past decade, manufacturing companies have announced plans to invest more than $13 billion and create over 56,000 new jobs in the Commonwealth.

While many of Virginia’s manufacturing brands are recognized around the U.S. and world, there are many that are not, even when many of their products are heavily used. In September, ST Tissue LLC, a manufacturer of high-quality tissue, towel and napkin products, announced plans to expand its operation in Isle of Wight County by investing $35 million and creating 50 new jobs. Just under 10 years old, the minority-owned company had a powerful impact on its community after resurrecting a former paper mill and converting it into one of North America’s leading outsourced tissue manufacturers, bringing back almost 90 direct jobs.

We spoke with Vice President of ST Tissue Sahil Tak to find out why he chose to grow and invest in Virginia.

Could you explain the history behind ST Tissue’s facility in Franklin and why you chose to grow in Virginia?The location in Franklin was ideal for us, given that mills typically serve customers in a 750-mile-radius, and the Franklin location could serve over 150 million people along the eastern seaboard. The mill site and machinery were kept in great condition by the former owners, and all the permitting, which is often a stumbling block for any industrial facility, was already in place. In addition, the workforce here had experience operating paper machines and were eager to come back to work, which was a huge benefit to the company. Finally, the Isle of Wight and Franklin communities, along with the Commonwealth of Virginia, were incredibly supportive through incentives to get us started.

The company was founded in 2007—what brought you to the paper business?
Most people think about paper as a dying industry – newsprint and copy paper certainly are being rendered obsolete by technology. However, packaging and tissue are growing, and most people don’t know that. Once we were introduced to the tissue industry (bath tissue, paper towels, napkins) we liked what we learned about the industry – steady demand growth, high barriers to entry, old capacity being shuttered, etc.

Once we came across an underperforming mill in Wisconsin, we saw an opportunity to learn the business, turn the facility around and continue to grow our presence in tissue. 

How many people are currently employed at the Isle of Wight facility?
We have about 85 people at our Franklin tissue mill.

What has your recruiting experience been in Virginia?
So far, with our current tissue machine, we were able to find a lot of people with manufacturing and paper-making experience. A lot of people in Franklin and Isle of Wight are eager to get back to work after they were displaced upon the mill closure in 2010. Getting electrical or instrumentation engineers has proven a bit difficult, but I think that is a problem everywhere. With our new machines, I get the sense that finding experienced and skilled staff will be more difficult, and so that’s where VEDP and Isle of Wight and Franklin economic development assistance will hopefully be able to help us target and curate a list of eligible candidates.

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