Tours shine spotlight on local manufacturing

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Messenger photos by Dedra Cordle
Shawn Hendrix, president of Nissen Chemitech America in London, talks to Jonathan Alder and Tolles Career & Technical Center students during a facility tour on Oct. 6. The tour program, initiated in 2015 by the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, highlights local manufacturing plants and available job opportunities. Nissen Chemitec’s London plant ships 1.3 million car parts for Honda each month.

(Posted Oct. 15, 2017)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

In the days leading up to a tour of a local manufacturing plant, Laine Schrewe asked the students in her engineering class at Tolles Career and Technical Center for the first word that comes to mind when they think of these facilities.

The overwhelming answer, she admitted, did not come as much of a surprise.

“Most of them said they thought it would be dirty,” said the instructor who used to work as an engineer at Honda Development and Research Americas.

The second most common response, she added, was that it would be loud.

Knowing their initial responses were not accurate, Schrewe implored them to keep an open mind once they stepped foot onto Nissen Chemitec America’s premises in London.

“I told them it wasn’t going to be glamorous, but it would be interesting,” she said.

Having hosted dozens of students since the touring program began two years ago, Nissen Chemitec president Shawn Hendrix said he is all too familiar with the students’ preconceived notions.

Vang Her, design and development manager at Nissen Chemitec, showcases computer renderings of vehicle parts.

In fact, he says he is all too familiar with just about everyone’s preconceived notions about manufacturing plants.

“Many people still believe in those old stereotypes that a manufacturing plant is dirty and dangerous,” he said, “but let me tell you that the manufacturing plants of today are not those of old.”

Hendrix said he enjoys being a part of these annual tours, which the Madison County Chamber of Commerce initiated in 2015 to celebrate Manufacturing Month. he said it gives local manufacturing plants a chance to dispel myths of the interior workplace environment and offers students a glimpse at potential job opportunities in the community.

“So many of these young adults think they have to leave the county or state to find well-paying jobs,” he said. “These tours show that there are plenty to be found here.”

For instance, Hendrix told the group of students from Tolles and Jonathan Alder that making parts for Honda isn’t the only job available at Nissen Chemitec. The wide variety of positions include shipping supervisor, graphic designer, human resources, accounting and administration.

“These plants around here are so much more than just what is on the surface,” he said.

David Kell, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said that was the main premise on which the manufacturing tours were founded.

“We wanted to find a way to help the schools and businesses develop a stronger workforce here in Madison County,” he explained.

To date, Kell said, over 120 students from local junior high and high schools have toured manufacturing facilities in London, Mount Sterling and West Jefferson.

As the program is relatively young, Kell said he does not have an accurate assessment of its success at this time. However, he does feel the tours have had a positive impact based on feedback from students, the schools and the companies involved.

“Everyone seems to enjoy the tours and come away with a greater understanding of what job opportunities are out there,” Kell said.

Schrewe said she can attest to Kell’s statement when it comes to her students’ experience.

“I was pleasantly surprised by their interest during the tour and after,” she said. “They asked questions and were very engaged during the entire process.”

Schrewe said she was encouraged that the tour seemed to change some students’ minds about the state of the manufacturing field.

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