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PR-B students introduced to local manufacturing

Students from Pine River-Backus' junior and senior classes spent Tuesday, Oct. 20, touring some of the lakes area's largest employers. "It was Manufacturing Week and we wanted to expose the different manufacturing companies in our area to the stu...

At Precision Waterjet Concepts in Jenkins Dylan Wilson from sales shows one of the company’s waterjet machines to Mary Sigan, Taylor Zaczkowski, Veronica Hulke and Hank Raph from the Pine River-Backus High School. Photo by Travis Grimler
At Precision Waterjet Concepts in Jenkins Dylan Wilson from sales shows one of the company’s waterjet machines to Mary Sigan, Taylor Zaczkowski, Veronica Hulke and Hank Raph from the Pine River-Backus High School. Photo by Travis Grimler

Students from Pine River-Backus' junior and senior classes spent Tuesday, Oct. 20, touring some of the lakes area's largest employers.

"It was Manufacturing Week and we wanted to expose the different manufacturing companies in our area to the students and (show what) potential careers are available to them without leaving the area," said Mary Sigan, PR-B's high school guidance counselor. "They can stay in the area and have good-paying, quality careers right in their own backyard. We felt it was important for students to see what is available."

"The kids get a big eye-opener," said Steve Hansen with the Pine River Area Economic Development Corporation. "I think in many cases they don't realize the kind of jobs and things that happen here in Jenkins or Backus. You see some of the jobs and things here and it's just phenomenal. Part of this is trying to help students see the kinds of jobs and employment to keep them in the area. For a lot of them, the thought process is that these kinds of jobs don't exist here. You have to go to the Cities or whatever. In fact, there's a demand for people with these kinds of skills in conjunction with Central Lakes College (CLC) and other community colleges. We have jobs here we need people for in training. It's part of the process."

The school, chamber of commerce, economic development group and local businesses first banded together for manufacturing tours in October 2014, when students from PR-B toured Pequot Tool and Manufacturing in Jenkins and Trussworthy Components in Pine River. The event was so popular that the group decided to continue holding manufacturing tours during October, which is Manufacturing Month.

Together, those involved hope to help the area hold on to some of the population that might otherwise be tempted to move to bigger cities for work. Colleges do similar tours; PR-B is just starting earlier than most schools.

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"It's extremely nice. I love doing this," said Joe Quaal, president of Precision Waterjet Concepts in Pequot Lakes. "We do this same thing with a CLC group. I think it's helpful for kids to know there are more options than just going to the Cities, especially in this area. If they love the area and want to be here, there are plenty of options."

The 2015 tour brought students to Precision Waterjet Concepts and Scamp Trailer Company in Backus, two large local places of employment. The students were able to familiarize themselves with the different tools and equipment used to accomplish jobs, as well as the subjects they should bone up on in school.

"I think some of the kids were surprised you definitely need a good education including English and math," Sigan said. "A lot of these machines, when you are programming them, it definitely takes pre-calc or trig and then also, just to be able to communicate that you need good communication skills. That strengthened that you need as much math, science and English as possible. Those core classes students are required to take, it's for a reason."

At Precision Waterjet, students not only got to see high pressure waterjet cutters in action, but they also spoke to sales and design staff.

"I hope they understand, sometimes manufacturing isn't all hard labor," Quaal said. "There's plenty of high-tech equipment here that does all the work, but we still need mindful people who know and understand how manufacturing is and how important it is - how it affects our economy and our communities."

Students on the manufacturing tour mostly shared the same curiosity.

"I was excited to see the waterjet cut the metals and see how efficient it is," said PR-B senior Hank Raph.

School and business representatives who had never seen the waterjets in action before were equally impressed.

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"I think students and staff were really surprised by the technology that we have and that is in our community," Sigan said. "There are some really high tech jobs. The cost of the machinery, especially at PWJ. Those machines were a million dollars, and that's right in our backyard. What they are creating or making all over the world and shipping all over the world - I think it's fascinating to see it made right in our own backyard."

"It is a way our economic development committee and business and community leaders can come in and see some of this stuff," Hansen said. "In many cases it's an eye-opener for them too."

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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