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Every community has its identity. The Triangle is known for its universities and the Research Triangle Park. Charlotte is a banking hub. And the Triad, well, despite the rumors of its demise, manufacturing is still very big, here.

“Guilford County is the largest manufacturing county in the state of North Carolina and the third largest in the southeast,” says Randy Gunter of Guilford Technical Community College.

GTCC is one of four in the region working off a state grant that built an apprenticeship program to help manufacturers, here, find quality, trained workers.

Guilford, along with the community colleges in Rockingham, Alamance and Randolph counties, have a program called GAP Apprenticeships that will not only pay students for working at local companies while they go to school, they’ll pay them for their hours in the classroom, as well.

Tammy Simmons of Machine Specialties, Inc. calls that a game-changer.

“It is good for the companies, I would say it is great for the students and I would say it’s awesome for the community, as well,” says Tammy.

Simmons believes her company could expand significantly – maybe double their business – if they had enough skilled workers.

And skill is the key – what they do at MSI is rare … maybe only two or three businesses in the country can make the precision parts for jet fighters, military bombers, joint replacements, the space station – even the Mars Rover. Those parts have to be exactly right, the first time.

“I mean, you think about when you’re on an airplane,” says Simmons. “All those parts have to be right. The amount of money that it costs just to send one ounce of something into space is astronomical so, of course, those things that are going up to space have to be perfect, have to be right. And, anything that’s going in your body in surgery, have to be right as well. So, that’s kind of what we’re known for.”

That type of “new manufacturing” is what the community colleges are selling.

“Manufacturing is not what it was, 30 years ago,” says Gunter. “It’s a clean environment, it’s a climate-controlled environment.”

That – and the ability to start making money while not accumulating student loan debt – attracted Garrison Weavil, right away. He’s a graduate of Southeast Guilford High School and an apprentice at MSI.

“I really saw that it was such a great opportunity, why not go for it, you know?” says Weavil.

See more about the GAP Program in this edition of the Buckley Report.