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Students can benefit from downstream ethane development

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Rebecca Randolph Rebecca Randolph
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    Robert N. Hart
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As the president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, I would like to personally invite you to the third annual Marcellus to Manufacturing, M2M Ethane Development Conference. The conference is scheduled for March 26-27, at the Charleston Civic Center. M2M is held in conjunction with the WV Construction & Design Expo, which is the largest trade show in West Virginia, with more than 5,000 attendees.

The M2M Ethane Development Conference hosts companies interested in locating new facilities or expanding existing operations in West Virginia while providing expanded understanding of the potential for ethane and ethylene-related product development in our state. Attendees learn about West Virginia's many advantages, including tax incentives, environmental permitting, workforce development, site options and West Virginia University's latest research related to the natural gas industry. This two-day conference offers a venue for networking with midstream, downstream and chemical manufacturing industry leaders, as well as a chance to reach out to companies interested in doing business in West Virginia. 

This year the WVMA is pleased to host the first ever M2M Academy, a half-day educational program for West Virginia middle school students. The M2M™ Academy includes more than 100 students from Jackson County middle schools. 

WVMA member companies Toyota and DuPont have developed hands-on demonstrations for the program, while Bridgemont Community and Technical College will provide technical demonstrations along with information about post-secondary educational programs in manufacturing. The M2M Academy is the first step for the WVMA in developing a more comprehensive Manufacturing Academy that aims to provide a broad overview of the diversity of manufacturing in West Virginia and the growth associated with the development of shale gas and the prospect of downstream manufacturing. 

For too long, manufacturing has carried a stigma as offering jobs that require low skills and intense labor. Automation and technology have transformed manufacturing, altering the skills needed to operate and maintain factory equipment. Once considered "dirty jobs," many careers in manufacturing require a high degree of skill and education, and offer earning potential to match. 

Findings from the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce indicate that by 2018, 42 percent of jobs in manufacturing will require some postsecondary education or a degree. In addition, a 2012 ManpowerGroup survey shows that machine operators and engineers are among the top 10 jobs that U.S. employers have trouble filling.

By most recent accounts manufacturing represents nearly 50,000 jobs in West Virginia, employing 6.6 percent of the workforce. Average annual compensation for these careers exceeds $61,000. Thanks in part to the abundance of natural gas and downstream manufacturing growth, these numbers will likely grow in West Virginia. 

The West Virginia Manufacturers Association and its member companies are committed to introducing today's students to tomorrow's opportunities for careers in manufacturing. By partnering with the West Virginia Department of Education, the West Virginia Community and Technical College System and West Virginia's four-year universities, we can assure that West Virginia's current and future manufacturers have a well-educated and trained workforce.

In addition to a number of quality seminar topics, day one of the M2M conference includes a panel titled "Partnerships in Workforce Education." The panel is moderated by Lloyd Jackson, president of Jackson Gas Company and member of the West Virginia Board of Education. Representatives from DuPont, WVU Parkersburg, Toyota and Bridgemont will discuss partnerships and programs in education that provide pathways for West Virginia students interested in careers in manufacturing. Jackson also will offer an update on the Board of Education's initiatives related to the promotion of career and technical education. 

No stranger to the importance of a skilled workforce, David Peebles, vice president of business development for Odebrecht Braskem will provide the opening keynote address for the M2M conference. Peebles will provide comments on Marcellus-to-chemical manufacturing in West Virginia and the opportunities facing West Virginia's economy. Peebles was a founding member of Odebrecht in the U.S.A. formed in 1991.

Remember, it is not too late to register and there is no cost to attend the M2M Ethane Development Conference. You can register conveniently online by visiting the WVMA website at wvma.com and by clicking on the M2M banner. Your registration includes the closing luncheon Thursday, March 27, and access to seminars and the exhibit hall. You may even see a few bright-eyed students who have learned that manufacturing is no longer just their grandfather's job!

Rebecca Randolph is president of the West Virginia Manufacturer's Association.