By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — There were more people on the floor than usual for Kay Manufacturing’s machinery area Friday.
Among the precision machinery and carbon steel was a constant flow of students from across Southwest Michigan. They were there at the St. Joseph Township plant as part of Manufacturing Day, a national event meant to showcase modern manufacturing technology and careers.
More than 1,300 people in Berrien and Van Buren counties – which included students, employers and legislators – celebrated the region’s $2 billion industry as a way to address the misconceptions that manufacturing is a dying industry.
“We had roughly 450 people attend our first Manufacturing Day and saw the growth potential. This year we had over 1,300 people attend the event,” said Alex Grumbine, director of Business and Industry at Kinexus. “Our main focus with Manufacturing Day is to support the growing industry with youth pipeline strategies and today’s event is a direct reflection of that.
“Improve the manufacturing brand and provide early access to students about the careers.”
This year Kinexus coordinated the event in two locations, which Grumbine said allowed for more Southwest Michigan schools to attend. Students participated in a Kids Correspondent Corner in Berrien County, while industry leaders attended a roundtable discussion in Van Buren County.
Kay Manufacturing and Eagle Technologies in St. Joseph Township hosted a bevy of students, showing their assembly process and workers who made a career out of the profession.
Spencer Manufacturing in South Haven gave students a tour of the facility and an extended look at the equipment.
Mark Rivera, plant manager at Kay Manufacturing, said showing students what they do for a living was a nice break from the regular workday.
Students touring Kay watched a video, viewed the quality lab, stopped at a manufacturing cell and the site’s robots with integration of turning machines.
“We need to hire people. We need people to grow the company,” Rivera said. “We’re looking for engineers, and a lot of kids out here today will be in the labor force some day. This gives them the opportunity to see what’s going on.”
Those who viewed Kay and Eagle buildings were given sunglasses as a keepsake and as a safety measure. Rivera said the most popular stop on the plant’s tour was the machining cell that had the robot and vision system.
“This is my career and its something that is vital to our economy,” Rivera said. “Everything needs to be made, whether it’s a car part or a computer.”
Kevonte Smith was visiting Eagle Technologies along with others from the Bridge Academy.
Smith said when he hears the words “factory” or “plant” he normally doesn’t attribute the word “clean” with them. However, looking at Eagle Technologies’ plant, Smith said he was surprised by how bright and clean everything was.
“I thought it was going to be dirty. I was surprised by the process and how they make different designs,” Smith said in reference to Eagle Technologies’ drive shafts. “I liked learning about the stations and who the parts are sold to.
Kinexus has been coordinating events on Manufacturing Day for the last few years. Grumbine said while the turnout was bigger than previous years, there’s still more that can be done.
“We need to see continued engagement from employers and schools and I hope to see this event increase further next year,” Grumbine said.