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Institute to ensure future supply of printing workers

March 08, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - The Tri-State area's printing industry, already a heavyweight in the area's economy, is expected to experience significant growth this year, possibly adding close to 600 jobs.

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But concern has been expressed about whether there will be enough local workers with the skills needed to fill such jobs.

That's where the James Rumsey Vocational Technical Center and Shepherd College's Community and Technical College come in.

The two schools, with support of the printing industry, have formed the Regional Printing Institute, designed to give local workers the expertise they need to succeed in the industry.

Educators said it's a unique effort.

The printing industry is a competitive field, and companies usually are secretive about their operations, said institute Director Charles T. McClain.

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But printing companies like Quad Graphics and Quebecor Printing in Martinsburg have come together to help get the institute off the ground.

Quad Graphics has donated $108,000 for computers and other printing equipment, and recently donated a $60,000 press to the school, McClain said.

"The way I see it, it's a very close-knit group," said Mike Popp, plant manager at Quad Graphics.

The institute plans to offer an associate degree in print technology, which will offer training in the skills needed to excel in the industry. The two-year program will cover all of the basics, including layout design, pre-press assembly, distribution, commercial printing and desktop publishing, said James Rumsey Director Jim Spears.

Institute officials hope the area's printing plants will provide hand-on experience, McClain said.

Some of the training could begin as early as next month at Rumsey, although the goal is to construct a building for the institute, said Spears.

West Virginia Gov. Cecil Underwood mentioned the importance of the institute in his State of the State address at the beginning of this year's session of the Legislature, but did not include money in his budget for the center, said Spears.

James Rumsey officials plan to go to Charleston this week to lobby for the funding, he said.

About $500,000 would be ideal, said Spears.

The institute will work to fulfill the needs of the industry, said McClain. To get an idea of what kind of training the industry needs, the institute mailed a "needs assessment" form to 125 printing-related businesses from Winchester, Va., to Chambersburg, Pa.

Other initiatives are underway. A year ago, James Rumsey added printing courses to its high school vocational program, and plans call for the institute to start introductory programs in public middle schools.

The middle school programs could include use of coloring books to show children the basics of printing, said McClain.

The institute estimates that more than 8,000 people are employed in the printing industry from Winchester, Va., to Chambersburg, Pa.

Quad Graphics, which prints newspaper inserts and other products in its plant north of Martinsburg, opened in 1997 with 165 people, and now employs 656. It plans to expand to 900 employees by the end of the year, said Popp.

Quebecor, off W.Va. 9 east of Martinsburg, employs about 400 people to print books by authors like Stephen King.

In Hagerstown, Phoenix Color Corp. employs 350 people to make book jackets and soft-cover books in the Washington County Business Park, according to a 1998 business directory from the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Phoenix is constructing a new book printing and bindery plant in Washington County which is expected to create 325 new jobs. The $38 million facility is expected to open this year.

The plant is part of a planned $100 million campus-style complex that ultimately will include two additional printing plants.

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