‘Made Here’ aims to attract students to manufacturing jobs in Idaho

By RACHEL SPACEK rspacek@idahopress.com

Oct 16, 2019

Bryan Minick/IdahoPress

NAMPA — Manufacturing jobs are not the same as they were 40 years ago, said Sheri Johnson, executive director of the Southwest Idaho Manufacturers’ Alliance, at the 2019 Made Here Expo. The expo aims to “inspire the next generation of manufacturers.”

The event on Wednesday at the Ford Idaho Center coincides with Manufacturing Month. It brought in over 60 exhibitors, manufacturers and companies from the Treasure Valley alone. Johnson said she was expecting 1,500 attendees, including over 1,000 local students.

“There are lots of great companies making stuff here,” Johnson said. “We are trying to plant the seed that these jobs exist.”

With an area unemployment rate at 3% or lower, manufacturing companies across the valley are “providing greater benefits, raising wages and changing their workplace culture” to attract employees, said Eric Forsch, business retention and expansion manger with Idaho Commerce.

“I grew up here, I was never aware of all of the manufacturing jobs here in town, and so I feel a personal responsibility to help share that story with all these youth,” Forsch said.

For Dave Allen, shop foreman for Boise Mobile Equipment, the difficulty is finding employees who are passionate about doing their jobs.

“I hope to get employees who want to show up to work and work,” Allen said. “A lot of people just want a paycheck, but getting people who are interested in what they are doing is hard.”

Boise Mobile Equipment designs and builds equipment for the firefighting industry. They start off with a basic truck or engine and add all of the necessary equipment for their customers. Allen said on Wednesday that the company was finishing up some fire trucks for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

He said they mainly work for customers in the western United States who fight rural fires, but they have some business with smaller city fire departments across the U.S.

On Wednesday, Allen and his coworker, Danny Weaver, were talking to students in front of one of their giant red fire trucks.

Students at the Made Here Expo were also drawn to Aviation Specialties Unlimited Inc.’s night vision goggles.

The googles, called E3 goggles, are aimed to make it safer to operate air crafts for law enforcement, search and rescue crews and air ambulances, said Patrick Crow, human resources manager for Aviation Specialties Unlimited.

Crow said the company was started by a couple in Idaho who wanted to make flying helicopters at night safer.

“We are the perfect example of an Idaho company,” Crow said. “This was started by a husband and wife. Their first office was inside an Airstream trailer. We now have 60 employees, a hangar and two air crafts.”

The company is located near the Boise Airport.

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Crow said the company is growing “slow and steady,” and decided to be an exhibitor at Made Here to show the public they exist in the Treasure Valley.

Nampa residents likely know about the large cheese-making factory located off Interstate 84, Lactalis, but the city is also home to other food manufacturing companies like Milne MicroDried.

Milne MicroDried had a booth at the event with samples of their dried fruits and vegetables. Justin Holthus, operations manager, said the expo was the company’s first major event in the community, though it has been around since 2012.

Milne MicroDried supplies larger companies with dried fruits and vegetables to put in their products, such as breakfast and nutrition bars and cereal.

The company has 80 to 90 employees in Nampa at varying levels of work, Holthus said.

“The unemployment rate is low and the growth in the valley is high, and with the amount of jobs that are out there, hiring has been challenging,” Holthus said. “It is all about being out there, getting to meet people and see who is interested in this, and for us to see what our future looks like. The more we can be prepared for the next few years in this hiring climate, the better off we will be.”

Casey Boothby, a computer science and STEM teacher at Vision Charter School, brought his middle school and high school students to the expo. He stood with a group of them as they were eyeing a virtual reality display.

“For me it is getting kids out in the world to see that there’s things besides just going to a university,” Boothby said.

He said many of the companies at the expo are less than a mile away from his school in Caldwell.

“It surprises them, this is just Treasure Valley stuff,” Boothby said. “My whole goal for my STEM classes is to connect them with the real world, so we have worked with places before and I have taken kids out to tour facilities. They don’t know until you bring them to something like this. They do not realize what is in their backyard.”

According to Johnson, there are over 1,700 manufacturers in Idaho with an average compensation per job that 40% higher than in other industries in Idaho.

A nationwide survey distributed by Deloitte shows events like Made Here are largely successful in exposing attendees to manufacturing jobs and sparking their interest in pursuing one. The survey found that 64% of people who attended Manufacturing Day events were “more motivated to pursue careers in manufacturing.”

The way Forsch put it, many manufacturing companies are “out of sight, out of mind” for students.

“Manufacturing is a huge part of our economy, it provides great paying jobs, they are great career pathways,” Forsch said.

Rachel Spacek is the Latino Affairs reporter for the Idaho Press. You can reach her at rspacek@idahopress.com. Follow her on twitter @RachelSpacek.

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