TRAVERSE CITY — Riding on a school bus doesn’t exactly conjure up fond memories of days gone by.
But this ride was different.
Late last month, I had the pleasure of leading 20 high school seniors and their teachers from the Manufacturing Technology Academy at Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Career Tech Center on a bus tour of some of our region’s local manufacturing operations. We motored past some ordinary looking buildings where extraordinary things are happening every day. Here in remote northern Michigan, our manufacturers are pushing the envelope and breaking ground in new technologies in areas including aerospace, energy production, automotive components, recycling processes and much more.
That’s of special significance to me, as many of these companies have worked with the Traverse City Chamber and its affiliates including the Traverse Bay Economic Development Corp. and the Northwest Michigan Tooling Coalition to help grow their operations. We’ve assisted companies like Boride Engineered Abrasives, Plascon, Century Inc. and others secure state and local tax credits and abatements to reduce their operating costs and purchase new equipment to help them expand into new products and markets.
It’s also significant to those students and to other young people in our region. The major contraction of Michigan’s manufacturing sector over the past decade left precious few job opportunities in the skilled trades. Young people trying to plot their futures were routed away from skilled trades to college degrees. It has been part of Michigan’s well-publicized “brain drain”- watching as our talented young people left for better professional opportunities in places like Chicago, the Deep South, or the East or West coasts.
It can be a good thing to spread one’s wings and explore new places, but it can also be rewarding to carve out a successful career path in a familiar place close to family and friends. Fortunately – and for the first time in years – these technology students will have those opportunities in the place where they grew up. As they secure their specialized education, certifications and degrees, they can be optimistic about their opportunities to secure a worthwhile job and a rewarding career in northern Michigan. They can enjoy our region’s natural beauty, the four seasons, the low cost of living and other blessings that attract successful people to our region from around the globe. Our young people can come home again.
As a postscript to our bus ride, several days later, the students sent me a thank you note signed by everyone who rode along on the tour.
Soon enough, we’ll be thanking them.
Doug Luciani is President and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org