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Dreamers wanted: High-tech manufacturing careers await willing workers

Photo Courtesy of NASA

When the Kepler Space Telescope launched into outer space in 2009, a little piece of Meadville went with it. Starn Tool, headquartered in Meadville since 1945, produced parts for the telescope with a mission to study exoplanets.

The Kepler Telescope was expected to operate for only four years but, nearly a decade later, on Aug. 2, 2018, “the most prolific planet hunter of all time,” as stated by Space.com, sent its last data haul back to NASA.

While the Kepler Telescope is exceeding expectations up in space, Starn Tool is pushing boundaries here on Earth. Today, Starn Tool is 78 employees strong with three different locations in Meadville. We serve a wide range of industries from automotive to aerospace and defense to medical devices and robotics. The work we do here every day helps to shape the future of some of the most cutting-edge industries in our country.

Starn Tool is special to Meadville but not unique. Our company is representative of the thriving manufacturing industry here in the United States. The latest Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index found that business conditions in the American manufacturing sector recently leapt to a 14-year high.

But while we look toward the future, we are plagued by decisions of the past.

The numbers for our industry have not always been so strong. Twenty years ago, the U.S. manufacturing industry faced a devastating downturn that forced some local companies to close. As a result, people walked away from manufacturing. Shop classes were pulled from curricula, tech and trade programs shuttered, and students and families were told that the only path to success was a four-year college degree. The consequences of those choices are real and are still being felt today.

For example, this summer, Starn Tool joined many other manufacturing companies in our area seeking students to participate in paid co-op programs. Although 16 positions were available in the industry, only three students from the local Career and Technical Center were qualified and applied.

While there is much national consternation about the growing number of college graduates who are underemployed and facing staggering student debt, the fact is that good, high-paying jobs are going unfilled here in Meadville and in manufacturing companies across the country. Students who join Starn Tool through co-op programs are almost always hired immediately post-graduation. They work as apprentices, sharpening their skills for high-tech, high-skill careers in challenging and exciting environments.

It’s important for students, teachers and families to understand that now is the time to get back into manufacturing, and specifically tool and die, careers. The demand is here now and if we can’t or don’t meet the demand, that work will go to other countries. When we lose work to overseas competitors, it is nearly impossible for American manufacturers to ever get it back.

The Erie Bayfront Convention Center will host our communities’ fifth annual Manufacturing Day celebration today. During this celebration more than 2,000 students, educators, business and community leaders will gather for a day filled with education, demonstration and career opportunities in the manufacturing industry. We encourage anyone who is interested to come by, see the exhibitors and learn more about careers in manufacturing.

American manufacturers like my colleagues at Starn Tool are helping shape the future in this country. We need more people to join us. We are looking for dreamers and doers who want to be a part of building the technology that powers our transportation, sharpens our military might and hones our medical procedures.

As the Kepler Telescope powers through the galaxy, we need more people standing in Meadville, looking toward the sky.

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