EAST MANATEE -- Making everything from microchips to potato chips, there are more than 10,000 manufacturing jobs in Sarasota and Manatee counties, and students learning those skills at Manatee Technical College are among the next set of incoming workers.
"Manufacturers are the wealth generators," said Peter Straw, the executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee Manufacturers Association.
Straw was one of three speakers before a crowd of nearly 450 MTC students on Friday morning as part of National Manufacturing Day. In addition to highlighting industry speakers, MTC launched a new Shark Tank-style competition and representatives from Feld Entertainment were on hand -- with a monster truck -- and with information about job opportunities.
Students also were able to tour local manufacturing businesses throughout the day. Last year, Florida led the nation in the number of middle and high school students taking tours, Straw said. He expects it to be the same this year. Straw spoke about the interconnected nature of the manufacturing industry, with four of five smaller companies coming together to make one product.
"We make a tangible product," he said. "We don't ship the jobs out of the area."
Launched officially on Friday, "Barracuda Business" is aimed at helping MTC students bring their own ideas to life through a competition, encouraging creativity while giving students the hands-on experience of starting and launching their own enterprise.
"We want creativity to abound," said Martha Meyers, a business and industry specialist for MTC.
The students can tap into
the local business and MTC resources to expand their plans for an idea, a product or a service. In the spring, a panel of judges, made up of MTC faculty and local business leaders, will judge the projects. MTC is in the process of trying to secure funds for the winner.
The competition will be aided by Anita Rose from the Small Business Development Center. Rose has launched four businesses in her lifetime and said the support the competition will provide will be invaluable.
"We're very excited to move forward with all of you," Rose said.
Paulo Reis, with PGT Industries, and Brian Winchell, with Sak Enterprises, also spoke to the students about how their companies got involved with the industry.
Reis, like many of the students in the audience, started with a technical high school, followed by a stint in Minor League Baseball, before going to a technical college. PGT Industries, which works mainly with windows, has hired 1,000 people in the past two years. Reis told students that in addition to having technical skills they need to be able to stand out during in an interview.
"You want to become an ace interview," Reis said. "I can tell within the first five minutes whether you're an ace or not."
About seven or eight years ago, Winchell and his wife wanted to venture out and start their own business. Fast forward five years later, and his "small but growing" company Sak Enterprises helps build gates and doors to mitigate floods, creates inflatable seals and works with warehouses. A number of Winchell's employees have come through MTC.
"We're grateful for the talent," Winchell said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.