Local manufacturing opportunities in spotlight at expo

A community event designed to inspire the next generation of manufacturers took place at Anoka-Ramsey Community College Oct. 22.

Matthew Salo, biomedical market development manager and program adviser at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, with his mother Donna Salo and son Rylan Salo, second-grade, check out one of the exhibits at the manufacturing expo at Anoka-Ramsey Community College Oct. 22.

Matthew Salo, biomedical market development manager and program adviser at Anoka-Ramsey Community College, with his mother Donna Salo and son Rylan Salo, second-grade, check out one of the exhibits at the manufacturing expo at Anoka-Ramsey Community College Oct. 22.

Hosted by the community college, Anoka Technical College, the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce and the city of Coon Rapids, the purpose was to connect students, parents and those in the community with manufacturers and showcase career options in the field.

The event featured a movie, “Metal and Flesh” and a question and answer session with Mike Schultz, the subject of the  film, followed by a manufacturing expo.

Schultz, who is from Pillager, was a world snocross champion who lost a leg in a snowmobile accident, then turned to inventing and manufacturing prosthetics for himself and other challenged athletes, winning the 2013 Popular Science magazine Invention of the Year Award.

Within a few months of creating a prosthetic leg for himself, Schultz won a silver medal at the motocross X-Games.

Besides the movie and question and answer session, Schultz also had an exhibit at the expo, displaying his Moto Knee and award-winning Versa Foot, along with his gold medal motocross bike.

He was also in demand to sign autographs.

Schultz’s story and his program were “unbelievable,” and an inspiration to those that were in attendance, according to Matthew Salo, who manages the medical device manufacturing program at Anoka-Ramsey.

The expo not only featured exhibits by local manufacturing companies, but also educational programs focused on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses, both at the college and high school levels.

For example, there were materials available about the new biomedical curriculum at Coon Rapids High School and the Blaine High School Center for Engineering, Math and Science.

Anoka-Ramsey and the technical college also had exhibits about the courses they offer in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The city of Coon Rapids and the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce were on hand to provide information on programs they offer to assist existing manufacturing industries, but also manufacturing businesses interested in locating in the area.

The event, held in conjunction with Minnesota Manufacturing Week, was not only to celebrate manufacturing, but also to raise awareness of manufacturing to the community, according to Salo.

He was pleased with the community response to this initial event, the first of what he hopes will be come an annual program and expo to celebrate manufacturing, Salo said.

“We had a diverse group of folks,” he said.

The plan is to grow the event in future years and attract more people, Salo said.

“We want to create awareness in the community of what manufacturing has to offer,” he said.

It is important to show what local high schools, as well as the community and technical colleges, have to offer in courses to train students for jobs in the manufacturing sector, Salo said.

“We saw Minnesota Manufacturing Week as an opportunity to engage and educate our community to see manufacturing with fresh eyes,” he said.

According to the 2011 Minnesota Skills Gap Survey of manufacturers in the state administered by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, almost half the respondents had positions open because of lack of qualified applicants and had moderate or serious shortages of workers.

Among the education exhibitors was Minnesota Project Lead the Way with Jim Mecklenburg, program director, outreach, talking about program and its involvement in curriculum in K-12 schools.

The biomedical program at Coon Rapids High School and the Blaine High School Center for Engineering, Math and Science are examples of Project Lead the Way’s STEM curriculum being used locally, according to Mecklenburg.

In addition, a Project Lead the Way engineering program is being integrated into District 11 middle schools’ curriculum thanks to a grant from Pentair, Mecklenburg said.

Based at the Minnesota Center for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence in Mankato, Mecklenburg travels the state – he was heading to Rochester and La Crescent after Coon Rapids – promoting Project Lead the Way curriculum to school districts, he said.

Right now, Project Lead the Way has curriculum in 270 schools in Minnesota, Mecklenburg said.

“It is one of the nation’s largest non-government STEM programs and the largest in Minnesota,” he said.

According to one of the brochures Mecklenburg had available at the expo, Project Lead the Way’s “hands-on, project-based engineering and biomedical sciences courses engage students on multiple levels, expose them to areas of study that they typically do not pursue and provide them with the foundation and proven path to college and career success.”

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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