WOODLAWN — Thomas Automation Management’s (TAM) open house on Oct. 30 celebrated continued growth with its new 10,800 square foot manufacturing and technology center. Officials on hand stressed TAM will be an important part of stopping Carroll County’s “brain drain.”
“Ever since I have been here in Carroll County, I’ve seen youth motivated to study and work hard, gain skills and knowledge and go to other places,” said Sulphur Springs District Supervisor David Hutchins. He said Owner Ricky Thomas’ company represented an opportunity to stop this technology drain and growing more employment options locally.
Hutchins likened the company’s work to the County’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) lab which fosters the skills needed for industries similar to TAM.
County Administrator Gary Larrowe told participants the entire project “had divine intervention involved” because a church group had the land graded which the addition sits on. He said Governor Terry McAuliffe mentioned TAM in a speech last year, describing the company as a local business which evolved into an operation serving about six countries.
“For me, TAM is not just another economic development announcement,” Larrowe said. “Most of the announcements we make (companies) must seek the world. TAM is a company where the world seeks folks in our community to solve complex automation issues. TAM is a type of company that attracts youth and talent. It is in no small part a partial solution to the brain drain of rural communities. With companies like TAM, we can hold on to our best and brightest.”
Larrowe predicted TAM would be the start of multiple companies that will “cluster” in Carroll to provide more solution-driven companies and opportunities locally. He praised Thomas and the company for completing the three-year performance goals by the end of its second quarter this year.
Carroll County High School Electricity and Electronics Instructor Paul Hill said Thomas, a former student of his, was a good student from the start.
“We just lit his spark,” said Hill. “He’s one of many. All of my students were number one. I always had the best students.”
Class of 1977 member Lonnie Utt said he was a senior when Thomas came to the school. Both met later when they worked at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (before TAM was created). Utt said RJR still recruits heavily from Surry Community and New River Community Colleges.
Thomas said RJR was a great company and is still one of his best customers. The Laurel Fork native said he decided to go it on his own following a third early retirement offer from the firm in 2008. At the beginning of the event, he unveiled a new laser which the firm designed and fabricated (using an existing Carbon Dioxide generator manufactured by Coherent). The new laser can burn a prescribed hole pattern in cigarette filters simultaneously managed by TAM-created software. The control of smoke by air intake is a critical part of the recipe firms use for certain cigarettes.
Thomas said a big part of his desicion to move back was based on his love of the area. Twenty-seven are on the firm’s payroll in full and part-time capacities.
“It’s highly technical work here and we rely on people with very special, technical skills,” said Thomas. “The problems we are asked to solve are always new and the skills to solve that are on a higher point of entry for workers than you find in other fields. We’ve got some great guys. There’s a lot of good, qualified people in the area and we hope to grow the business.”
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.