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Thursday, November 24, 2022

Local makerspace receives $300K for expansion of building, programming – Lynchburg News and Advance

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Alexis Grose prepares the lathe to run an operation during the Women in Machining program at Vector Space.
Student Tanya Baier uses a lathe during the 12-week Women in Machining career training program at Vector Space.
Women in Machining participant Kayla Barksden works with instructor Niemann Pest at the lathe during the Women in Maching program at Vector Space.
Last week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced more than $10.2 million in Growth and Opportunity for Virginia (GO Virginia) grants, and a portion of that money is making its way to Lynchburg’s Vector Space to help expand workforce development programs for the underserved.
Part of the Go Virginia funds — $324,000 — will go to Vector Space, a makerspace located at 402 5th St., to facilitate the implementation of expanded programming and equipment centered around workforce development and entrepreneurship for underserved populations.
“GO Virginia is a critical tool for spurring innovation and inspiring regional collaboration for economic growth in the private, public and nonprofit sectors,” Youngkin said in a news release. “These projects will allow us to expand Virginia’s workforce development opportunities, strengthen our talent pipelines, and continue building a Commonwealth that works for all Virginians.”
Vector Space is a makerspace and community workshop with the mission to build an open and collaborative community that fosters innovation, creativity, and the pursuit of science based knowledge.
Throughout its 12-week Women in Machining program, women learn to operate metal lathes and milling machines, creating precision metal parts and understanding the operation of industrial equipment paramount to the manufacturing industry.
Entrepreneur support will include access to equipment and training for startups, as well as professional support services for prototyping. To support workforce development needs in the materials and machinery cluster, Vector Space will partner with HireLynchburg and Virginia Career Works to implement a 12-week Women in Machining Program.
HireLynchburg exists to support talent and in-demand skill development for Lynchburg industries by providing skills training and pathways to job opportunities within the city’s target industry clusters. Virginia Career Works aims to advance economic stability and growth by preparing and connecting people who want to work with employers who need to hire through its training providers and network of professional partners.
Elise Spontarelli, executive director of Vector Space, said the grant is a piece of a larger project they’re working toward — an expansion and purchase of a building.
“The Go Virginia piece is supporting the expansion of programming, because that’s what they’re interested in, is programming for workforce development and entrepreneurship, and the funding from them will help us to expand our programs and acquire new equipment for programming, and all of that is in partnership with funding that we’re raising for expanding,” she said.
The current location on 5th Street is 12,000 square feet and offers multiple programs, but Spontarelli and her husband, Adam, have cobbled it together into a makerspace.
“Which has been great, and we have loved it, but there are definite aspects that are not ideal,” she said. “Our second floor doesn’t have elevator access, and our woodshop is in a convenience store where the ceilings aren’t high enough and the floors are slippery. And so there’s parts of the building that are unfinished that we can’t justify putting a lot of money into.”
In the past six years Vector Space has been open, it has expanded twice and sees that growth continuing.
The business is now looking to expand into a space that has 20,000 to 25,000 square feet.
“When we expand our footprint, we will also have the capacity to expand our programming and the Go Virginia money is the programming aspect of that,” Spontarelli said.
The Women in Machining program has existed through Vector Space for three years now and has worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) – Lynchburg and the city of Lynchburg’s HireLynchburg — run out of the city’s Economic Development Office (EDA) — to write a Small Business Administration match grant specifically for makerspaces who are doing workplace development programming. This year, it also will partner with Virginia Career Works.
In the past, students would learn the machining skills, but it was a huge lift to get them ready to apply for jobs and complete their resumes, Spontarelli said.
This year, instead of trying to get them to complete resumes after the program with the help of Vector Space’s small staff, Virginia Career Works will step in to teach the SkillsUSA curriculum during the 12-week program.
“So it went from being a two-day program to a four-day-a-week program and they did their resumes, practiced interview skills and did all this professional development at the same time that they were learning machine skills,” she said. “So now they’re applying for jobs as soon as they finish the program.”
Traci Blido, executive director for Virginia Career Works, said the organization along with the Central Virginia Workforce Development Board, is proud to support Vector Space because it promotes career pathways in skilled trades and aligns with the organization’s mission to connect job seekers to high-quality careers.
“The Women in Machining program has helped some of our clients to learn new skills that led to great jobs in manufacturing and changed their lives. This expansion will only add to the quality workshops and training provided there and its great news for our region,” she said.
“So this is our third iteration of the program and we continue to learn and expand and we’re going to try to add more women and increase the success rates of getting them employed,” she said. “We’re bringing in more employer partners each year.”
Alisha Meador, economic development manager for the Office of Economic Development & Tourism and lead on this program for the city, said machining is a historically male-dominated field, with over 95% of local machinists being men.
“When Vector Space approached us with this concept, we immediately saw the potential in being able to broaden the pool of who could fill these important jobs,” she said. “The HireLynchburg program is grant funded, and specifically aims to provide workforce training and opportunities for individuals who fall within 200% of the federal poverty level or below. Being able to match women to these high-paying, skilled jobs was in alignment with these goals.”
She said the workforce training program run by Vector Space aims to assist women in finding employment in the machinist field, filling a critical role in advanced manufacturing jobs in the City.
“All of last year’s graduates went on to additional schooling or obtained employment in their chosen career field at a living wage, and all of this year’s participants are set to do the same,” she said.
Vector Space also partners with Lynchburg’s EDA and SBDC to run a 10-week entrepreneurship training program called Co.Starters.
Spontarelli said the program has been on hiatus during COVID but will be back this fall.

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Alexis Grose prepares the lathe to run an operation during the Women in Machining program at Vector Space.
Student Tanya Baier uses a lathe during the 12-week Women in Machining career training program at Vector Space.
Women in Machining participant Kayla Barksden works with instructor Niemann Pest at the lathe during the Women in Maching program at Vector Space.
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