McAuliffe emphasizes jobs on whirlwind Winchester tour

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe speaks Tuesday at the former John Kerr Elementary School in Winchester. It was announced that the school is being renamed The Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER –  Jobs. That was the message throughout Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s whirlwind tour of developments across Winchester on Tuesday.

“We have had so many job announcements since I’ve been governor up here, I feel like I’m the governor of Shenandoah,” McAuliffe said at the dedication ceremony of The Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center.

McAuliffe spoke before a crowd of school administrators, local officials and students wearing their career and technical outfits: welding helmets, denim aprons, safety goggles and lab coats. The Innovation Center will prioritize STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics), health sciences and professional skills education, a program that meshes with McAuliffe’s vision for the future of the workforce in Virginia.

“My problem today, as governor, is not jobs. Anybody in Virginia who wants a job can get a job here in this great state,” McAuliffe said. “Our problem is I have too many high paying, open jobs that I cannot fill.”

McAuliffe cited 140,000 unfilled technology jobs in Virginia last year and 36,000 currently open cyber jobs.

U.S. Rep Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, left, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, right, applaud after the unveiling Tuesday of the The Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center on Jefferson Street in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

The announced Innovation Center, located on the site of the old John Kerr Elementary School and adjacent to John Handley High School, will be made possible by a $1 million contribution from the Frederick D. and Karen G. Schaufeld Family Foundation. No formal timeline has been announced for the facility’s renovations.

The center was dedicated to Emil and Grace Shihadeh, the parents of Karen Schaufeld and Sandy Shihadeh.

“This new facility — that Karen and Fred and Sandy and everybody have been so active (on) — is another thing that I’ll have in my arsenal when I travel the globe,” McAuliffe said. “When I go to Japan tomorrow, I will be able to tell them that we have this new workforce training facility in Winchester, Virginia, and you need to put your business there because when you come here, you will be successful.”

Handley High School students presented the governor and members of the donor family with an assortment of handmade gifts. They brought forward wooden pens, gavels, and a metal steer’s head welded from 10 pieces of steel, an object so heavy it required the support of two students.

Brady Noll, 18, a Handley High School senior wearing an apron and protective glasses, saw the Innovation Center as giving students a competitive edge. “It’s definitely going to give us a leg up,” he said.

John Delaney, 17, a Handley High School student, dons his welder's mask while attending the unveiling of The Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center on Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

McAuliffe left the ceremony before U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, delivered her speech. He left to make it to the groundbreaking ceremony of the FBI Central Records Complex on Millwood Pike. The new site will centralize records from 50 regional locations, housing nearly 120 miles of paperwork, and, to McAuliffe’s satisfaction, bring approximately 500 jobs to the area.

The third and final stop of the day was at the new Winchester Valley Workforce Center on North Cameron Street. More than five times the size of the old location, the new Valley Workforce Center shares the space with other community resources to create what McAuliffe dubbed a “one-stop shop.”

“Because we have more space, we’re able to co-locate with other workforce partners that are very important to the work that we are all doing,” said Sharon Johnson, CEO of the Shenandoah Valley Workforce Development Board (SVWDB). “We have the capacity to deliver more services, more effectively and efficiently, to reduce redundancy, and to bottom-line be able to better serve the job-seekers and the businesses within the northern Shenandoah Valley.”

Armed with a 2-foot-long pair of golden scissors, McAuliffe sliced the scarlet ribbon held across the center’s front doors.

“Our Workforce Development Board’s folks — they are leaning in, they’re coming up with great, creative ideas on what we need to do, and they actually help people every single day,” McAuliffe said. “They get to come to work and change people’s lives.”

H. Russell Potts, Jr., right, announces the unveiling of The Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center on Jefferson Street in Winchester Rich Cooley/Daily

Vicky Feathers, now an SVWDB Resource Room specialist, has seen both sides of the program. She first came to the center as a dislocated worker, and with its help, she was able to land two internships with different companies before being offered the internal position. Since then, she’s been helping others shake off unemployment themselves.

“I never realized how much goes into the program, on the side that I was on before,” Feathers said. “Now that I’m on this side, I really realize how much work goes into it.”

Feathers had one piece of advice for current job-seekers: “Never give up.”

Other SVWDB members were also once displaced workers, and the organization received national recognition from the U.S. Department of Labor when Mitchell Atkins became the region’s first graduate of the American Apprenticeship Initiative. He now works for Bowman Andros Products.

Throughout each stop of the day, McAuliffe celebrated economic growth in Virginia. “This Winchester area — Frederick County, the whole Shenandoah Valley — this place is booming economically,” McAuliffe said. “You’re on your game here.”

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe tours the Winchester Valley Workforce Center on Tuesday during its grand opening. Rich Cooley/Daily

McAuliffe’s three-hour tour through Winchester left an impact on the sites he visited. Sera Francis, who has worked for the SVDWB for a year as a recruitment eligibility specialist, summed up what McAuliffe’s presence meant to the organization.

“I know, personally, with being with the old staff, (and) making the transition with the new staff, that we’ve worked extremely hard to get here with our clients and our success stories,” Francis said. “For him to come down here and meet all of us, and listen to our stories and get to know what this facility does, it’s appreciated immensely.”