SME Education Foundation and Northern California Tech Manufacturers Gather to Announce PRIME School Grant

DEARBORN, Mich., HEALDSBURG, Calif., October 4, 2012 —Northern California's Sonoma County is one of the world's greatest wine producing regions, but the corridor along Highway 101 from Petaluma through Santa Rosa to Healdsburg is also a tech powerhouse.

More than 150 manufacturers, including Agilent Technologies, Enphase Energy, General Dynamics, JDSU, L3 and Labcon have facilities in the region according to Dick Herman, president of 101MFG, a private alliance of area manufacturing executives.

"Manufacturing is cool again," says Bart Aslin, CEO of the SME Education Foundation. "Our mission is to help make stronger connections between exemplary instructors like Petaluma High School's Dan Sunia and organizations including SME and 101MFG who bring local manufacturers together to prepare their future workforce.  We are delighted to recognize and to help support the expansion of this program in Northern California, through our award of the Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education [PRIME] program."

Dan Sunia, a thirty year veteran machinist who began his career at a US Navy shipyard in nearby Vallejo, has been running the metal shop at Petaluma High School for ten years.  During that time - through donations from local manufacturers and money the shop receives from producing park benches, he has acquired lathes, mills and CNC equipment identical to what his students will use when they graduate and go on to either their technical careers or college engineering courses.

"Most of my friends and my generation came up through apprenticeships.  I was fortunate to be part of a program sponsored by the US Navy," he says.  "Programs like ours don't exist at many high schools anymore because as a society we forgot that students who want to be engineers or who aspire to a good career opportunity need a hands-on education.  That's especially true with today's advanced manufacturing.  We are grateful to the SME and honored to receive this award which will help us reach out to more teachers and more students in more schools."

Local industry executives agree.  "We've produced a generation of kids who are book-smart, but they've never made a real plastic or metal part," says Jim Happ, CEO of Labcon North America.  His company produces 8 percent of the world's laboratory pipettes and centrifuge tubes and is currently bringing back work from Mexico.”

“My parents moved their first company (now General Dynamics OTS) from LA to Sonoma County in 1980. There was high tech manufacturing in the area at that time, but not the diverse base we have now.  We were fortunate that when a talented engineer, technician or professional moved to this area they seldom wanted to leave,” said Che Voigt, a founder of the company [SDG] that became L3 Sonoma.

And it couldn't have come at a better time.  There is a definite trend to bring production back to the US, where experts say there are 600,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs.  As the baby-boom generation of skilled machinists, engineers and technical workers retire, the demand will only grow.  That is why high school, trade, junior college and university programs are feeling much more demand for well-qualified applicants.

"We conducted a survey of more than 300 Bay Area Manufacturers," says 101MFG's Herman.  "The message was clear. Yes we need engineers, but for every one engineer we'll hire, we also have a need for three or four machinists, assembly techs and quality inspectors. These jobs are well paid and are the basis of long term careers."

Despite recent economic warnings, 101MFG forecasts growth of 2,000 new manufacturing job openings in Sonoma County alone during the next several years, as 'replacement' demand will be high. "Local government and businesses are very supportive," Herman says.

Sonoma County and local business leaders recently formed a public-private collaborative called BEST ‘Building Economic Success Together’ with its mission to promote the retention, attraction and growth of these businesses and to make sure their future workforce is prepared.

"We have direct involvement of many 101MFG manufacturers, we've formed a new SME Chapter for local members to serve as mentors to high school and college students pursuing these careers; and we've worked hard to get the support politically and from our communities through organizations such as BEST," says Herman.  "Despite the inevitable ups and downs we're all facing in the economy, everyone's skin is in the game and we are confident of success."

About 101MFG:
101MFG is a private alliance of manufacturing executives throughout Northern California, dedicated to become "California's Next Great Manufacturing Center SM".
For more information, visit www.101MFG.com

About Petaluma High School:
Petaluma High School is a public high school located in the city of Petaluma, California in the Petaluma Joint Union High School District. The educational mission of its instructional program is to provide a student-centered academic and vocational curriculum. Students can self-select a pathway leading to certification at graduation, leading to post-secondary opportunities, credit enhancement, or directly to the workforce. This curriculum fosters responsibility, citizenship, communication, respect for others, for the world in which we live, and promotes lifelong learning. In 1992, Petaluma High School was named a California Distinguished School. Visit http://petalumahighschool.org/   

About SME Education Foundation:                                                                                        
Created by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers in 1979, the SME Education Foundation has provided more than $31 million since 1980 in grants, scholarships and awards through its partnerships with corporations, organizations, foundations, and individual donors. Visit the SME Education Foundation at www.smeef.org. Also visit www.CareerMe.org , for information on advanced manufacturing careers and www.ManufacturingisCool.com, our award-winning Web site for young people. 

Media Contact:
Bart A. Aslin, CEO, SME Education Foundation, 313.425-3302, baslin@sme.org; Dick Herman, President, 101MFG, 707.766.1537, dherman@101MFG.com

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