Patrick & Henry Community College (P&HCC) held its ribbon cutting for the Stuart site’s digital fabrication laboratory (Fab Lab) on Wednesday, July 27.
P&HCC President Dr. Greg Hodges said according to the website fabfoundation.org, Fab Labs provide ‘access to the environment, the skills, the materials, and the advanced manufacturing technology to allow anyone anywhere to make almost anything.’
Originally created by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), there are more than 1,800 similar labs in more than 100 countries in the world.
“It is no stretch to say that these high-tech facilities allow minds, young and old, to go from a good idea, to a manufactured product, to a lucrative small business. In our Fab Lab in Henry County, we’ve seen entrepreneurs from 8 to 80 innovate, design, engineer, and accelerate products that have generated an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is absolutely contagious,” he said.
Hodges said the college is confident that the Fab Lab in Stuart will do the same for Patrick County.
P&HCC is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually into the county, he said, adding “we could not do this work without our partners
who understand that these efforts are all about good paying jobs with family-sustaining wages that allow the people of Patrick County to stay in Patrick County and raise a family.”
In this case, he said the money came directly from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale Venture Challenge, which was written specifically for Patrick County.
“This grant provides just over $300,000 to implement proven-solutions to support entrepreneurship and accelerate company growth in this community,” he said.
Hodges said the grant purchased equipment like the Fab Lab’s 3D printer, a laser engraving and cutting station, a resin cutting machine, and other tools. The grant also provides resources to bring a successful business development and entrepreneurial program to Patrick County.
“In partnership with the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce, this PCVA Business Builders Entrepreneurship program aids rural communities in creating their own small business ecosystem,” he said.
While everyone loves it when large businesses move to a region, Hodges said everyone knows that small businesses are the heartbeat, lifeblood, and the fun of a community. He noted that the PCVA Business Builders program is designed to ensure that this happens.
The ribbon cutting, he added, represents the next in a series of deliberate investments of the college into the economic development of the region.
Three years ago, the college partnered with Patrick County High School to open a first of its kind welding facility, Hodges said.
“What makes that model so unique and generated the additional infusion of resources from the Tobacco Commission is that the welding lab provides dual-enrollment instruction during the day and adult instruction in the evening,” he said.
Hodges said the model of two different classes has proven to be successful and inspired P&HCC to work with the high school to find ways to expand the same model for Career & Technical Education in other disciplines.
The college also expanded its workforce delivery options to include electrical groundsman training, customize workforce options for business and industry, and Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) certification to the Stuart site two years ago.
“Last year, the college partnered with the Town of Stuart to open the Gerald L. Baliles and Richard S. Reynolds Sr. Learning Center, 5,000 square feet dedicated to mechatronics training and workforce flex space for new or expanding regional employers,” he said.
Rebecca Adcock, executive director of the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce, said she is thankful for P&HCC’s strong commitment to workforce development.
“This room may look small, but it will offer big opportunities for our community. For our businesses to prototype items, for cottage industry sales, and for personal use to build awesome Halloween displays. This Fab Lab will be a great addition to our community,” she said.
P&HCC also has classes scheduled during the fall to teach those interested on how to use the lab’s equipment. For more information or to complete the required pre-registration, go to ph.augusoft.net, or call (276) 656-5461.
The Fab Lab will be staffed Monday-Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Thursday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.