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Martinsville, Virginia, was built on three industries: tobacco, textiles, and furniture. Through the 19th century, tobacco was the region’s largest cash crop and “plug tobacco” factories dotted the fields around Martinsville. In the 20th century, furniture manufacturing dominated. A number of the country’s biggest names in furniture manufacturing — Bassett, Hooker, Stanley, Gravely and American Furniture — all got their start in the city. By mid-century, a complementary industry, textiles, also boomed. After Dupont established a nylon production factory in Martinsville in the 1940s, Martinsville would become known as the "Sweatshirt Capital of the World."
In recent decades, however, these industries have experienced significant contractions in response to global economic conditions and new trade treaties. Building on its strong manufacturing base, Martinsville sought to reposition itself long-term as a center for technology development and advanced manufacturing. To assist these efforts, EDA invested $1.7 million to support construction of a workforce training center, including classroom and high-bay manufacturing space and associated equipment, at the New College Institute in Martinsville.
Opened in September 2014, the new facilities allow the Institute to provide training to students in advanced manufacturing, next-generation healthcare, and entrepreneurship. In order to address the shortage of skilled workforce in those particular sectors, the Institute is partnering with universities and workforce training organizations — most notably with the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM), Center for Advanced Film Manufacturing (CAFM), and Virginia State University— to provide a direct link for the region's workforce and companies to employment and expansion opportunities of the future. The project is already helping to tie community members to the larger state economy, and it has also helped revitalize a section of Martinsville’s downtown, bringing new vibrancy to the community.