Northern Colorado MFG Report: CSU training a next-gen MFG workforce

By Jim Eddy | Oct 22, 2013

Northern Colorado is home to a dynamic community of makers and manufacturers, a mix of established firms, growth companies and startups that collectively are helping to fill a growing demand for domestically produced products.

Most economists agree a growing manufacturing base is vital to the region, that the shift in economic priorities that diminished America’s manufacturing sector the past 30 years can be reversed. Northern Colorado, with a stable of economic assets including global brands that call NoCo home and a world-class research university, can play a vital role in rebuilding the manufacturing sector.

Workforce issues may be the most pressing challenge to revitalizing a domestic manufacturing economy. Globalization and an emphasis on the service economy accelerated the decline in the U.S. manufacturing base by shifting workforce training away from manufacturing. As the sector comes back, an ongoing question will center on how to educate a new workforce to become more competitive in an ever-changing world economy.

Data suggests that as the demand for locally produced goods has increased, a shift in education and training has is occurring and higher-ed is retooling to meet demand for more occupational workers. But supply will lag to meet demand.

At CSU, the Mechanical Engineering Department has been quietly preparing future generations of engineers with the knowledge and experience necessary to design and develop the “guts” of the manufacturing economy by giving them “hands-on” experience. For the past 12 years, the Engineering Manufacturing Education Center, led by Steven “Doc” Schaeffer, has given students shop space and projects that acquaint them with all sorts of manufacturing processes similar to what many of them will encounter in careers after college. Schaeffer has tailored the program to the light industrial processes commonly found in the Northern Colorado manufacturing sector.

This ‘fit’ has benefitted the local manufacturing economy and is now seen as a model in the region. Building on the experience they gain in the EMEC, the Mechanical Engineering Department has formed strong relationships with local companies like Woodward and Wolf Robotics, who’ve used teams of students from senior capstone classes to work on various design and manufacturing problems. Fees are paid to the department in exchange for a dedicated team of students that work specifically for one of the company partners.

It’s a working public/private partnership that also creates a sustained internship program. Long-term, the program promises to better match students with the growing number of manufacturing jobs industry is poised to create. As demand for locally produced goods continues to grow, support from our public institutions may be vital to sustaining a prolonged manufacturing recovery.

Contact me to profile your Northern Colorado business or report on the growing maker and manufacturing movement in CompanyWeek. Plans are to develop a regular NoCo MFG Report, including a regional-specific news feed and content archive. Companies here are leading a regional MFG revival; help us wave the flag for business in this region.

Jim Eddy reports on the making and MFG economy in Northern Colorado. Reach him at (970)581-7282.