Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

April 16, 2014

Putting the spark back into the manufacturing sector

TRAVERSE CITY – Travis Rogers doesn’t blame outsourcing, mechanization or regulation for Michigan’s stalled manufacturing industry.

There’s just no spark in it.

“We’re stuck in our old way of thinking and we need to open our minds and challenge people to open their minds and really put an investment into manufacturing and new, innovative ideas,” Rogers said. “We just can’t be stuck on doing the same thing anymore.”

Rogers is a student at Northwestern Michigan College who studies engineering technology and mission robotics. At 23, he’s spent five summers at East Jordan Iron Works, making the rounds through production departments to learn all the steps, and just finished an internship at Traverse City Products, Inc.

He grew up with a father and uncles who work in manufacturing. He said the industry is in his blood, and that inherent passion is something most kids don’t get.

“Most kids don’t have the opportunity to work in the garage with their dads, or do different things where they can get that interest,” Rogers said. “You have to be able to spark an interest.”

Increasingly standardized education is part of the problem. When schools have students take the same classes and push everyone toward four-year degrees, kids miss out on well-paying industries like manufacturing.

“It puts a wall up to what we can see,” Rogers said. “We need to put less importance in degrees and paperwork. It needs to be more about skills, learning how to do and not just learning from the book.”

Rogers spoke to a group of more than 600 manufacturing industry leaders and politicians at the Governor’s Economic Summit in March. He was part of a panel of manufacturing students, and told the crowd about lean manufacturing, a philosophy that manufacturers should work based on the orders they get rather than build a surplus of products.

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