Danville center launches companies faster

British aerospace and defense components manufacturer MEP Ltd. isn’t moving into its U.S. facility for another few years, but that isn’t stopping the company from getting its operation off the ground in Danville sooner.

In August 2021, MEP (which will operate in the U.S. as Making Everything Possible LLC) moved into a space at the Rapid Launch Facility on the campus of Danville’s Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) while its permanent facility is being completed in Danville’s Cyber Park.

“We’ve actually got machinery in there and we’re making products,” says Phil Hart, executive chair of MEP Ltd. and president of Making Everything Possible LLC.

Starting the business in the temporary location allowed the company to launch its U.S business earlier than it would have otherwise, Hart says. “The facility that we have at the institute will really give us such a good foundation [for] starting and growing the business in the U.S.,” he says.

The IALR’s leadership is so confident the rapid-launch concept works to woo companies to invest in Southern Virginia that they’re preparing to open three additional rapid launch manufacturing spaces for lease when their $25.5 million Center for Manufacturing Advancement (CMA) opens on their campus this spring.

Opened in 2002 with a goal of diversifying and growing the region’s economy, the IALR began making plans in 2017 to build the CMA.

“Because we knew it would take a while, we actually built a little building on our campus using local funding,” says Mark Gignac, the institute’s executive director.

The 14,100-square-foot Rapid Launch Facility opened in February 2020 and currently houses two companies: Making Everything Possible and FasTech LLC, a Danville-based metal additive 3D printing and milling services provider for parts manufacturing.

By offering companies a way to reduce the traditional startup time, the IALR hopes to woo more businesses to Southern Virginia. “The main purpose, of course, is to create jobs and launch industry,” explains Gignac.

In addition to the rapid-launch facilities, the CMA also will offer process improvement labs for companies that need space to experiment with improving manufacturing processes without shutting down production at their facilities, as well as an inspection lab “so that tenants of the building can literally have parts they manufacture tested on site,” Gignac says. Additionally, the CMA will offer space where company executives, engineers and manufacturing students can study and showcase emerging technology.

Gignac says proudly, “This is a pretty unique concept.”