Maury County Public School students from Spring Hill High School and Santa Fe Unit School last week toured Columbia Machine Works, one of the Southeast’s largest contract manufacturing facilities, ending a day of visits to some of Middle Tennessee’s most lucrative employers participating in a day celebrating the manufacturing industry.
A group of two dozen students toured the local shop that employs 80 workers at two facilities in Middle Tennessee by the company’s head, John K. Langsdon III.
Langsdon, the company’s fourth-generation president, walked the students through his operation’s 50,000 square-foot facility, bustling with activity as workers fabricated tools and equipment used by companies across the United States, using methods including precision CNC machining and heavy-duty metal fabrication.
“I like to hire a young man or woman right out of high school,” Langsdon told the students. “My biggest investment is my workforce. To keep the business going, I need to make sure that I have good people running my machines. You can go to work at a store or an office, but there are other things going on here.”
Columbia Machine Works, joined by Landmark Ceramics in Mt. Pleasant and Armada Nutrition in Spring Hill hosted a total of 120 Mechatronics and Project Lead the Way students from the county’s high schools as part of a national event to showcase modern manufacturing and connect companies with future workers.
“It is a great opportunity for kids to see what is made here in Maury County and the job opportunities they have,” said Rich Smochek, a mechatronics instructor at Spring Hill High School.
A national program coordinated by The Manufacturing Institute — the education and workforce partner of the National Association of Manufacturers — MFG Day is held to introduce young people and others in the community to the thriving manufacturing industry to change perceptions of manufacturing and highlight the high-tech and innovative work companies do each day.
During a lunch hosted by Columbia State Community College and sponsored by the Maury County Chamber and Economic Alliance, local students heard from Ellie Sieverman, a representative of tnAchieves, which is a partnering organization to the state’s Tennessee Promise Scholarship offering two years of college tuition to each student in the state.
Across the manufacturing field there is an ever increasing demand for skilled professionals who can design, program and operate technology. Reports indicate that in the next 10 years manufacturers will need to fill 4.6 million jobs.
Langsdon told students that he sends his employees across the country to make emergency repairs to essential advanced manufacturing equipment used in a variety of applications.
Last month, he sent a team to do an emergency repair to fix a crack on a die, a specialized tool used to cut or shape metal, that was critical to production for a major manufacturer. The team was able to make the necessary repairs over the course of a weekend.
“What we are doing here has purpose,” Langsdon said. “What we do has a lot of meaning to people’s lives. If we can’t do what we do employers have to send people home. By the same token, a lot of the things we have to do here, there are not a lot of people across the United States who can do it. I can tell my guys that they are providing a service that not many others can provide. That is what gets me excited every day.”
Langsdon says his locally owned operation offers opportunities that can’t be found at major multinational corporations.
“It’s becoming something rare,” Langsdon said. “Businesses of this size are getting bought out by much larger corporations where decisions about your job are being made by some office somewhere. Here, they know they can come straight to my office if they have a concern. It is still the kind of business where we respect one another. I put my employee first because without good employees you are not going to have a good customer. It’s about having a family business with family values.”
Since 2016, Maury County Public Schools and Columbia State Community College have been working in unison to offer a joint mechatronics program made available to students through dual enrollment.
The curriculum offers Maury County’s high school students the ability to earn an associate degree of applied science in advanced integrated industrial technology alongside their high school diploma.
Students also have the option to graduate with a technical certificate.
Mechatronics is a multidisciplinary field of science that includes a combination of mechanical engineering, electronics, computer engineering, telecommunications engineering, systems engineering and control engineering.
The curriculum offered by Columbia State, Spring Hill, Columbia Central and Mt. Pleasant high schools works to give students a strong fundamental understanding of each field to become adaptive members of Tennessee’s large and rapidly changing manufacturing industry.
The local program was funded partly through a Labor Education Alignment Program 2.0, or LEAP Grant, provided by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
The partnership enforces Maury County Public School’s “Seven Keys to College and Career Readiness,” a set of standards for the school district’s students collectively set by members of the community. It is made in direct correlation to Key 7, setting the goal that all students participate in advanced placement, dual enrollment, industry certification, work-based learning or military preparation before they graduate from high school.