TRAVERSE CITY — Students looking for a future career may know the least about one of the biggest industries in the state.

Northwestern Michigan’s Manufacturing Day — a state initiative that began in 2012 — attempts to educate a large group of junior high students on the first Friday in October.

Officials are anticipating nearly 1,400 students will participate in the region’s event on Oct. 4.

“We’re working with Manufacturing Day because we want to get kids exposed to different careers,” said Shelly VanderMeulen, career facilitator with Networks Northwest who works with the Educational Development Plan program. “They can’t decide if they’ve never heard about it, never seen it or never experienced it.”

The 1,400 students come from 14 area schools, an expected increase of 500 from 2018. Thirteen of the schools send students in eighth grade while the others are juniors and seniors from four programs at the Traverse Bay Area Intermediate School District’s Career-Tech Center: electrical occupations, precision machining, Machatronics and the Manufacturing Technology Academy.

“The kids really do get to enjoy the day and see things they don’t normally see,” said Drea Weiner, director of the MI STEM Network through TBAISD.

“We’re making a connection with students and employers in our region,” added Betsy Williams, business development/training specialist with the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center. “That was always the goal and the mission.”

The actual number of businesses that are part of Manufacturing Day has dropped from last year — 42 to 32. But that decrease is actually an increase.

Businesses open their doors to two morning (9:30 and 10:10 a.m.) and two afternoon (12:20 and 1 p.m.) tours. Some companies choose to limit work-day interruptions with an either/or proposition, but not this year.

“Many of them are doing double tours,” Williams said.

Participants receive a drawstring MFG Day bag. Inside is a GoGo squeeZ sample made in Grawn and a pair of safety glasses.

The bag is for company products, some of which the kids will work on making during their visit.

“It’s all about career exploration — and having fun,” VanderMeulen said.

The region’s Manufacturing Day began in 2014, two years after the national event started. There are nearly 200 different events scheduled in the state, according to a release from the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity.

The area MFG Day began with less than 300 students visiting eight businesses located near Northwestern Michigan College’s Parsons-Stulen Building.

Several of the businesses will participate in the 2019 event, including Boride Engineered Abrasives, Clark Manufacturing, Kennametal, National Vacuum Equipment, the RM Young Company, SMI Aerospace, Tool North and TranTek.

“The growth is really getting the word out,” Williams said. “It’s about our area knowing more about the manufacturers and the students getting more excited.

“We’re making progress getting the word out and about the fantastic jobs that are available in manufacturing in our area.”

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