Mansfield students shared school stories Monday morning with US Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) after learning he had walked a few of the same halls as them many years before.
“You go to Spanish Immersion?” the senator asked excitedly. “That’s the old Brinkerhoff. I went to that school.”
The Tyger alum was in town to encourage students in grades six-eight during the first day of the Richland County summer manufacturing camp, which his office helped to organize.
“You can be in manufacturing and have good jobs and make good money,” Brown told the students. “It’s just fun to make things.”
‘You want to get them early’
Brown helped start the statewide summer camps 10 years ago to teach students the importance of manufacturing in Ohio. The first was in Youngstown, then Richland County joined five years later.
“Mansfield is one of only a couple that kept going during the pandemic,” Brown said.
There have been more than 100 camps in the past decade, combining to help thousands of students catch a glimpse of how things are made.
“You want to get these kids interested in making things and thinking about maybe a career as a welder, a career as an entrepreneur, a career in manufacturing,” Brown said. “You want to get them early.”
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The future senator learned about the trades at a young age while talking to his friends at Brinkerhoff Elementary, Johnny Appleseed Junior High and Mansfield Senior.
“I walked the halls with a lot of sons and daughters of machinists and rubber workers, steel workers, auto workers and electrical workers,” Brown said.
‘A betrayal of our country’
The big Mansfield employers when the senator was a kid were Westinghouse, The Mansfield Tire and Rubber Company, Ohio Brass, General Motors and Gorman-Rupp.
“Some of those companies are still here, but frankly it was greedy corporate executives that shut down production because they wanted to pay workers less and they moved first to Alabama then to Mexico and China,” Brown said. “It was a betrayal of our country.”
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Residents of North Central Ohio today are feeling the effects of having fewer manufacturers than before.
“The main reason inflation is so high is because our supply chain is strung all over the world,” Brown said.
Computer chips and other necessary parts, he said, are stuck in ports across the globe, keeping things from being made.
“Production has slowed down and prices have gone up,” Brown said. “The lesson is we’ve got to bring manufacturing back to Mansfield, to Shelby, to Cleveland, to Willard, to Loudonville and to all over.”
‘It definitely does change kids’ lives’
That’s why supply chains are the focus of this year’s camp, according to Nyasha Oden of the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, who has helped run the Richland County event during each of its five years.
“We want to know just how everything going on in the world has affected them in their businesses,” Oden said. “But, also how they’ve prevailed.”
In addition to visits to production facilities, students will get to see how local factories — and even a couple retailers — keep track of parts and supplies throughout daily operations.
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“We have a lot of things that are not necessarily manufacturing this year, but they speak to that supply chain piece,” Oden said.
The weeklong program in Richland County is limited to 22 students each year to keep tour sizes manageable when the group visits local businesses. A lot more children than that sign up every summer.
“If a kid doesn’t show up, then we’ll call one of those on the wait list and have them join us,” Oden said.
It costs between $300 and $450 on average to put one child through camp each summer, but all of the Richland County students are attending for free thanks to the generosity of local companies.
“It definitely does change kids’ lives,” Oden said. “It gives them a new perspective, because when you think of manufacturing, you think of assembly line and assembly line only, and there’s so much more than that.”