In celebration of Manufacturing Day, which was celebrated on October 3, 2014, First State Manufacturing sponsored events designed to demonstrate the current reality and long-term potential of manufacturing in the United States. As part of the event, Governor Jack Markell proclaimed September 29 through October 3, 2014 as Delaware Manufacturing Week.
On Tuesday, September 30, eighth grade Honors Science students at the Milford Central Academy were given a tour of the manufacturing floor at First State Manufacturing as part of the “Dream It Do It” program. After the tour, the students were given an opportunity to speak to Eli Valenzuela, the owner of the manufacturing company, and two other representatives of manufacturers in Delaware.
“We hope to make this an annual event,” said Rustyn Stoops of the Delaware Manufacturing Partnership. “We are trying to promote manufacturing as a job option for those who are not planning to go directly to college.” Mr. Stoops said that tours were being held throughout the state to promote manufacturing in Delaware.
First State Manufacturing began in 1997 in the garage of Eli Valenzuela and his wife, Sher, before moving to their current location. Today, the company is an industrial sewing company operating out of a 76,000-square foot facility and employing more than 70 full-time staff. The company supplies seating and upholstery to government and commercial entities.
“If someone had asked me when I was your age what I wanted to do, I would have said I wanted to be either a garbage man or a brain surgeon,” Mr. Valenzuela said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do. However, I believe that everyone has a destiny and you may already know what you will like to do when you are my age. When I was young, I was the ‘go-to’ guy for making kites and we used to have kite wars. My kites were some of the best and I won a lot of those kite wars. What I do today is not much different than when I made those kites at your age.”
Mr. Valenzuela told the students that life experiences can change goals and that they should keep an open mind. Brian Nixon, Plant Manager for Invista, said that he realized when he was mentoring at a middle school five or six years ago that eighth graders would be at an age in five or six years to enter the job market. He realized that employees in his plant were getting close to retirement, with many telling him that they would be leaving in five or six years.
“I realized that those eighth graders would be entering the job force and that not all of them would be heading to college,” Mr. Nixon said. “That is when I realized we needed to provide them with information on the skill set we were looking for and began creating a partnership with the tech and other high schools in the area.”
Chris Clifton of Atlantis Industries Corporation said that his goal was to show students that manufacturing was “cool” and not what their grandparents did for a living. “We have a real problem finding qualified employees,” Mr. Clifton said. “Unfortunately, many kids don’t think it is a cool job to have or they think it is a dirty job. In fact, what we do can be really cool.”
Mr. Clifton showed students the parts the company made that were used as part of the Transformers movie and other things that the company manufactured that were being used overseas by the United States military in Iraq, Syria and Afghanastan. He showed the students a Claymore mine that had plastic parts produced by his company in Milton, was assembled at Mohawk in Milford and placed in a satchel created by First State Manufacturing. Mr. Nixon showed students the dress-down uniforms created by Invista, explaining that every soldier wearing a dress-down uniform was wearing something made by their company.
After talking with students about today’s manufacturing industry, students were permitted to ask questions of the three manufacturers. One student asked what types of jobs Mr. Nixon had held since entering the manufacturing world. Mr. Nixon explained he had held many jobs and that each of those jobs required a talent that he learned in school.
“When I worked in Quality Control, I had to write a lot of reports,” Mr. Nixon said. “While working on the production floor, I used a lot of math. I have worked with robotics, with engineers. My first job was in the power house and I knew nothing about power when I started, but I learned.” Mr. Nixon explained that salaries in theses fields range from $12 to $14 an hour for an entry-level production worker to $20 to $30 an hour for those with technical experience.
Mr. Clifton explained that in 2009, his company was creating mostly automotive parts for General Motors and Mercedes. They were working 24 hours per day, seven days per week with three shifts per day. He stated that the economy faltered after September 11, 2001 and as sales dropped significantly the company was reduced to one shift a day for three or four days per week. It was then that the company began to diversify and produce different types of products.
Students were very interested in the fact that Mr. Nixon and Mr. Clifton both travelled extensively for their jobs. “That is another benefit to my job,” Mr. Clifton said. “I get to travel to plants all over the world and because we have manufacturing plants in other countries, you could even choose to work in another country.”
On Friday, October 4, 2014, First State Manufacturing hosted a roundtable discussion with Maria Contreras-Sweet, the Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator and member of President Barack Obama’s cabinet. Local officials, including Mayor Bryan Shupe, were able to discuss the challenges of manufacturing in today’s local job market and examine solutions to those challenges. First State Manufacturing has successfully used SBA services and was recognized as Delaware Small Business Persons of the Year in 2012.