Despite Volvo layoffs, optimism for manufacturing in the NRV

By John Provo

We were all saddened to hear an announcement of fresh layoffs at Volvo Trucks, especially so close to the holidays. Truck manufacturing is a cyclical industry, and folks who have been in the region for a while have been through this with Volvo before. However, this time it’s especially painful as the larger SWVA region Volvo draws its workforce from is still struggling to deal with more than 2,000 dislocated workers from earlier manufacturing layoffs and about 2,000 from coal mining.

Those are hard numbers to face. Still, the region shouldn’t forget that the manufacturing sector remains relatively robust. This is especially true in the New River Valley, where almost 12,000 people are employed in manufacturing, a number that has grown about 10% over the last five years.

Manufacturers continue to invest in the region. Volvo built a new customer discovery center, test track, and paint shop in the last two years.Within days of the Volvo layoff announcement, Torc Robotics announced an expansion, adding 20 jobs. Cantal Steel moved to the region, adding 38 jobs. That doesn’t even us even for the month, but these smaller announcements that don’t always get headlines highlight the generally positive trend. With average salaries of $60,000 annually — well above the regional median — this sector has an economic impact even greater than its employment numbers suggest.

Further, because of earlier layoffs in coal and manufacturing, the region has already ramped up training and supportive services, including $10 million worth of federal grants. That will include cutting-edge short courses and certifications offered in person and online. Our office has been very pleased to work closely with industry, community colleges, workforce boards and other partners to be sure these offerings include the latest in-demand skills that will prepare individuals for new opportunities. Impacted individuals should contact the rapid response coordinator or regional workforce board.

While Volvo’s most recent round of layoffs are regrettable, we shouldn’t lose sight of the bigger picture — there’s still plenty of room for optimism. And with the resources available for dislocated workers, we will once again weather the storm and show why this region is a great place for employers and employees in manufacturing.

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