Column: Celebrating manufacturing

ESCANABA — On Nov. 8, Delta County K-12 students and parents attended Industry After Hours at VanAire to learn more about the high tech, high skilled, action packed manufacturing jobs that are available locally. Over 276 participants were treated to a fun, entertaining and informative event that exceeded expectations and inspired a future generation of manufacturers.

After a safety discussion, CEO Steve Soderman gave an overview of VanAire. Working with most valve and actuator companies in North America, VanAire’s hardware connects industrial valves to pneumatic or electric actuators. Valve Automation Hardware is used in numerous industries such as chemical processing, wastewater, oil and gas, and pulp and paper – anywhere there’s a pipeline. VanAire has product on all seven continents. Thousands of their products are in use at Verso and you can find them in Lambeau Field and even the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.

VanAire’s other core product line is Environmental Solutions. This department engineers and manufactures Dissolved Air Floatation Systems (DAFS) that use a mechanical process where microscopic air bubbles attach to impurities in wastewater. Companies can then sell or recycle the recovered by-product. Not only is VanAire known for rugged and reliable pretreatment systems, but these DAFS help solve environmental issues for companies in industries like food processing, dairy and municipal pre-treatment systems. Customers served include McDonalds, Sara Lee, Jimmy Dean and Ballpark Franks to name a few.

Five manufacturing myths, along with pumpkins, were busted by the dynamic VanAire team of Steve Soderman and Tony Lambert.

Manufacturing Misconception 1: There isn’t stability or growth opportunity in manufacturing. The fact is manufacturing makes up over 9 percent of all the jobs in America. Michigan’s District 1, which encompasses the U.P. Region and 16 counties of Northern Michigan, has 25,000 manufacturing jobs according to Economic Policy Institute. Manufacturing workforce tenure is 43% higher than non-manufacturing. Manufacturers offer training and welcome team members who want to move up within the company.

Manufacturing Misconception 2: Manufacturing jobs are low skill and low-paying.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are all critical elements to operate machines, inspect parts and maximize efficiency. 2016 wages and salaries in manufacturing are 16 percent higher than service-providing sectors, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That same year, manufacturers provided 65 percent more in benefits per hour than employers in the service industry.

Manufacturing Misconception 3: Manufacturing Jobs are “dirty jobs.” There are jobs where you will get your hands dirty, there are jobs that you will not. Engineering and design, business management, customer service, sales, maintenance, CNC operation, paint application are just a view of the broad and diverse careers that are available. Manufacturers strive to provide a safe, clean and organized environment for employees.

Manufacturing Misconception 4: Operating machine tools is a mindless, boring and repetitive job. Manufacturing team members are called upon every day to make accurate decisions, quickly resolve issues and work with others to efficiently get the right product to the right customers at the right time.

Manufacturing Misconception 5: U.S. can’t compete in a global market. American manufacturing contributes $2.2 trillion of economic value to the U.S. On its own, it would be the 7th largest economy in the world, beating out entire countries like India, Brazil and Canada. America beats out global competition with innovation, technology and high productivity. It takes 6 workers in China to produce the same amount as one worker in the U.S. “Re-shoring” is a real phenomenon. Companies are bringing work back to America due to hidden costs, late shipments, poor quality and poor communication.

An education tour was setup where VanAire employees demonstrated the latest manufacturing technology in action including a Laser Burning Table, Robotic Welder, Computer Numerical Control (CNC) Machines, Engineering and CAD positions along with Information Technology, Sales and Marketing.

The evening was a tremendous success with food, fun and learning. Social media feedback from the students, parents, teachers, counselors and administrators in attendance was very positive. “Congrats on a successful night!!! looks like this should be an annual learning event!” “So much fun tonight at VanAire! Tony, you’re awesome with those kids!” “That was an amazing event, You guys did a fantastic job of making it fun, informative, and interesting for all ages. Sincerely appreciate the time, energy, and effort that you all put into this.” “Just want to say thank you to VanAire and their awesome staff for showing us Industry After Hours! Wonderful information about manufacturing, fun time for the kids and a great asset to the great UP. The tour was very informative and all the staff were very professional Thank you again Great job.”  “Seriously the best open house we’ve been to, my son has his CAD degree, I may even have him switch out jobs!”  “Glad it went well! Such an awesome thing to do for the community. The UP is blessed with some awesome companies.”  Sincere thanks and gratitude to VanAire for sponsoring an amazing community event.

Throughout the year the Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District, Michigan Works! Upward Talent Council and the Delta County Manufacturing Alliance will be celebrating manufacturing in our community. Additional events planned include more Industry After Hours, Manufacturing Education Externships and Freshman and Sophomore Talent Tours. For more information contact Vicki Schwab, Executive Director, Delta County EDA at 906-786-2192 or

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Vicki Schwab is director Delta County Economic Development Alliance