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Kaine, Warner visit Fredericksburg
Democratic Senate candidate Tim Kaine (left) and Sen. Mark Warner listen to Tom Van Doren of HDT Global Robotics in Fredericksburg.
SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY BILL FREEHLING
The threat of sequestration and a limited pool of qualified potential employees are both standing in the way of HDT Robotics hiring, the company's chief operating officer told a pair of former Virginia governors Monday.
Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats, visited HDT Robotics' high-tech Wolfe Street office in downtown Fredericksburg as part of a whirlwind day that included numerous campaign stops between Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. Warner holds one of Virginia's U.S. Senate seats, and Kaine is running against Republican George Allen, another former Virginia governor, for the other one. Allen appeared Monday in North Stafford.
Former Spotsylvania County Supervisor Hap Connors helped set up Kaine and Warner's visit to the office of HDT Robotics, which is a division of HDT Global. HDT, which has an array of products and services catering to defense- and health-care-related industries, also has an engineering services division in the Lee's Hill Commercial Center in Spotsylvania and a manufacturing facility in southern Stafford County. About 45 people work for the firm locally.
HDT officials showed off some of their products for Warner and Kaine, and then talked about challenges facing the company.
Kaine and Warner got a firsthand look at the firm's "Protector" machine, which clears trails for infantry troops and can serve as a field stretcher, as well as a remote-controlled robotic arm. Both men tried picking up wooden blocks with the robotic arm, which the military uses to dismantle bombs from a distance. HDT also makes prosthetics and machines used in medical rehabilitation.
Engineers at HDT's local offices oversee the research and development of such products. That work requires a very specific skill set, one that HDT Robotics Chief Operating Officer Tom Van Doren said isn't easy to find. He noted that the overall unemployment rate may be high, but it's minuscule for the well-trained engineers HDT is looking for.
Van Doren also said the large sequestration-related defense cuts that could take effect Jan. 2 without congressional action are making it hard for the firm to hire. Some defense projects might be eliminated if the cuts take effect, and that uncertainty doesn't leave companies in the mood to hire.
"It's a real concern to us," Van Doren said.
Warner and Kaine said Congress needs to come to a compromise to avoid the "blunt-instrument" cuts associated with sequestration.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405