Friday, October 1, 2021

Celebrating a STEM Skills Workforce


“The facility’s most important element is people.”  These were the words of Air Force General Mark Bradley inaugurating the then-new Newark Air Force Base in 1962. 

Nearly sixty years later, Bradley’s words are truer than ever.

Twenty-five years ago, when Boeing, the Air Force, and Bionetics - DESG joined with the Port Authority in embarking on a new approach for which there was no roadmap, it was clear the STEM-skilled workforce would continue to be the most important element.

We know, and it should not be forgotten, that of all the reasons that were behind why the work of a closed Newark AFB couldn’t just march off to some other distant place, the most critical of those reasons was workforce.  Wise people like the Port Authority’s Wally Horton and base commander Colonel Joe Renaud then asked, “Would the skills to maintain one-of-a-kind equipment move with the equipment?”  Many rightly pondered, “Could the knowledge from thirty years of remanufacturing precision instruments be replaced elsewhere?”

We’ve never had to answer those hard questions because of a partnership that we celebrate today.

This is a place critical to our local economy but also critical to the national defense.  Availability of STEM skills has made the Central Ohio Aerospace & Technology Center (the renamed Newark AFB) able to continue to achieve unmatched precision and accuracy--the equivalent of a pencil point on a football field levels of accuracy. 

Key to maintaining the important work here was maintaining the important workforce skills here.

Fearing the local consequences of a national statistic that once indicated 80% of parents discouraged their kids from science and technology careers, the Port Authority has made STEM learning a major focal point of our development efforts.  Partnered with The Works and many others in the community, the Port Authority and our customers have made it our collective jobs to provide a dash of local relevance to the recipe for science, technology, engineering, and math skills to be a Licking County emphasis.

Today’s commemorative event isn’t just about looking back.  It’s about paying forward with attention to the future.

Strategically, the Port Authority is doubling down on STEM learning in Licking County.  The Port Authority’s Board has promised $1 million dollars over the next 20 years to a new STEM Scholarship.  The Aerospace Center workforce and Licking County students at COTC and OSU-Newark will be the beneficiaries of a scholarship being funded today.

STEM learning efforts with The Works started more than a dozen years ago.  There are people in the workforce today able to seize job opportunities in STEM careers as a result of those seeds planted long ago.  These national model efforts will continue with vigor.  It’s ingrained in Licking County—STEM skills matter.

An aim to broaden the reach is also being sparked.  In partnership with the YMCA’s All-for-One camp, the Port Authority aims to bring STEM learning to more members of our community.  Integrated summer camps which include special needs children being exposed to the uplifting promise of STEM skills needs to be part of a brighter future for our community.

Let’s all celebrate our STEM skills workforce.  The occasion of 25 years since October 1, 1996 when uncertainty and doubts about the future ruled the day has been replaced with much better sensations--ones of stability and growth. 

STEM learning and a STEM-skilled workforce are behind those sensations and will remain well into our future.


This development column is a regular column in The Advocate.

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