CHERRY POINT — Gov. Roy Cooper paid his first visit as governor to Fleet Readiness Center East aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point to tour the depot’s facility and discuss workforce development Tuesday.
FRC East is the maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider for Marine and naval aircraft aboard Cherry Point. With around 4,200 employees, it is the largest industrial employer in the region, generating more than $720 million in annual revenue.
As part of his tour of the facility, Gov. Cooper met members of FRC East’s first class of apprentices under the National Apprenticeship Program. The four-year program, which welcomed about 40 apprentices in August, offers participants a combination of education and on-the-job training. The apprentices receive free schooling and work as full-time federal employees with pay and benefits, and will be offered jobs at FRC East upon successful completion of the program.
“Some of them (apprentices) are veterans who retired and decided that they want to come back and do this kind of work. There are people who just graduated from high school and are working in an apprenticeship to get the kind of credentials that they need for a good paying job,” Gov. Cooper said during his tour Tuesday. “I’ve talked to people who started out here as artisans and have worked their way up to managing a lot of employees, so there’s clearly opportunity for advancement here, and I think there’s a lot of pride in the work that they do because of the importance of it, but also they’re grateful to get this kind of training that gives them the support they need for their families.”
John Olmstead, public affairs officer for FRC East, said if the first year of the apprenticeship program proves successful, the depot will consider continuing it in future years. More than 380 applicants vied for 40 spots in the program, and 37 apprentices are now receiving education and training.
The governor spoke highly of FRC East, especially as it relates to job creation and supporting economic development in eastern North Carolina.
“This is a hidden gem in eastern North Carolina for good jobs for everyday people,” he said. “…These are the kind of jobs we want North Carolina families to have, where you can make a good living. But it also requires some expertise, and this is why we’ve got to continue to invest in education across our state, because making sure that this workforce is ready, not only for commerce in our area, but this workforce is ready to defend our country. That is critical, and it’s exciting the work that’s been done here.”
Calee Holmes is one of the participants in the National Apprenticeship Program and said the fact Gov. Cooper has taken an interest in FRC East validates the work she and her fellow apprentices do aboard the air station.
“It makes me feel great that I’ve made it this far and that people are actually appreciating what we do,” she said. “…We’re being taught a trade that, unless you’ve been in the military, you’re not going to learn, so me being a stay-at-home mom and being brought out here and being taught from the ground up is unbelievable.”
Gov. Cooper also spoke on the state’s recent investment of $5 million for development of the F-35 Lightning II aircraft at Cherry Point. The F-35 is the military’s next-generation fighter aircraft with three distinct variants, and FRC East is the primary repair and maintenance depot for the F-35B variant. It can also service the A and C variants, and last year, FRC East achieved a milestone when it serviced and returned all three variants of the aircraft.
“I was a strong supporter of that effort for the state of North Carolina to come in and to provide funding because we needed to close the gap and make sure that it was happening here in North Carolina,” Gov. Cooper said. “I think you’re going to see the rest of the country, also private business, looking to FRC East to provide help for them. They know they can get great work here done on time, so I think having this facility here, it’s a small price to pay for what we’re getting back in economic investment in eastern North Carolina.”
Gov. Cooper said he is proud of the state’s role in national defense and he hopes to continue to support the work FRC East does to further that mission.
“To make sure that this is a successful endeavor, that we have one of the best places in the country for repair and renovation of aircraft and that we are ready as a country to defend our people and that North Carolina can play such a big part in that,” he said. “We are indeed the most military friendly state in the country, and we are going to do everything we can to uphold that reputation.”
Contact Elise Clouser at firstname.lastname@example.org; by phone at 252-726-7081 ext. 229; or follow on Twitter @eliseccnt.