BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — By most accounts, the representatives of the West Virginia Aerospace Alliance considers their industry a thriving one with room to grow in North Central West Virginia. There is, however, one major concern that those representatives expressed to Governor Jim Justice at an economic conference Monday afternoon.
“We have an aging work force,” Bombardier General Manager Stephen McCoy said. “We need to feed the work force with younger people.”
McCoy said the average turnover rate of employees in West Virginia’s $1.05 billion dollar aerospace industry is less than half that of the national average, but that has created a concern over how to replace employees who are fast approaching the end of their careers.
“How we’re going to, number one, feed this industry out here,” McCoy said. “There’s probably about 2500 to 3000 jobs here. Job opportunities, if we look at the whole, another 1000 jobs potentially. But we have to understand where we’re going to get those people from to feed those jobs.”
That was one of several conversations that brought Justice and Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher to Bridgeport.
“They are standing at the threshold saying, ‘There’s job opportunity everywhere,’ Justice said. “And it’s the very thing that West Virginia needs desperately.”
One of the ‘feeder’ systems McCoy referred to is the Robert C. Byrd National Aerospace Education Center, which has been supplying fresh recruits to companies like Bombardier and Lockheed Martin. A number of representatives in the room expressed concern that untapped potential at the school was being wasted due to a diminishing budget that doesn’t allow trainees to work on modern equipment during their introduction to the aerospace industry.
“We need to reward these people,” Justice said. “Someway, somehow, that’s my job. I’ve got to convince the people of what’s going on here, and I can get that done.”
McCoy believed the conference was, overall, a win for the industry–a chance to capture the ear of a Governor who seems willing to listen.
“He really understood what our issues are,” McCoy said. “I really look forward to working with him in trying to address the issues that we have.”
Bombardier announced an expansion in November that likely would create several hundred jobs over the next few years, but McCoy said the entire industry is trying to get out and ahead in solving their looming work force issue.
“I did mention that we’re starting to see second-generation [employees] coming in, but we need to see more of that,” he said.
“You know it was mentioned that a lot of the jobs in the state have been coal mining jobs and second-third-fourth generation coal mining jobs in any given family. I would love to see that happen in the aerospace industry.”
At least one representative from the Alliance suggested that the aerospace industry needs to stop being “the best kept secret in West Virginia.”
“We probably don’t do a good enough job in letting the community know that we’re here and what we do here,” McCoy said. “We also have some work to do.”
The aerospace industry employs more than 2200 West Virginians. Justice said this has the potential to be an industry that West Virginians can truly embrace with greater growth.
“People on the outside don’t really have a clue really how great West Virginia can be in so many ways,” he said. “It’s my job to change the perception, to get the word out, to market our state, to do the things that will bring people and get people to give us a different look.”
The Bombardier expansion project, set to break ground this year, is expected to create between 150 and 300 new jobs in the industry.
The meeting included representatives from the West Virginia Aerospace Alliance, Bombardier, The North Central West Virginia Airport, the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, Aurora, and several other aerospace industry-related organizations.