Members of Obama administration visit MCC

Perez, Duncan tour M-TEC building

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published December 13, 2013

WARREN — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reminded Macomb Community College faculty that the $24.9 million U.S. Department of Labor grant the school recently received “was not a gift. It was an investment for your team.”

On Dec. 12, Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez visited the college’s Michigan Technical Education Center to see how the grant would benefit MCC. Their visit was designed to highlight the selection of MCC to lead the grant.

“Please challenge us to be good partners,” Duncan said, adding that they need to be vocal “when our rules or bureaucracy are getting in the way.”

In September of this year, MCC officials announced that the college received the grant for distribution between eight Michigan community colleges. The project will be known as M-CAM, and Macomb will lead the coalition.

The grant money is designed to support opportunities in advanced manufacturing and prepare individuals for jobs in computer numerical control machining, welding/fabrication, multiskilled technicians and production operations.

“The application process was very selective,” Perez said of awarding the grant to MCC. “We had far more applicants we had money for. (MCC) embodied what we were looking for. They had a plan to thrive.”

Duncan and Perez toured the M-TEC building with MCC Workforce & Continuing Education Director Holger Ekanger leading the way. The pair met several faculty members, who each briefly explained the machinery inside the facility. 

Their visit was part of President Barack Obama’s administration’s ongoing efforts to enhance local economic revitalization and ensure that existing resources effectively support local priorities. A roundtable discussion with MCC President Jim Jacobs, program staff, students, employer partners and workforce leaders followed the tour.

Perez said that, while traveling the nation, he often hears “I want to grow” from those in the manufacturing field. According to those closest to the industry, skilled workers are still needed.

“Manufacturing wants to hire but cannot find qualified people,” Duncan said.

The field doesn’t seem to appeal to students younger than college age, panel members said.

“Manufacturing has lost its luster,” said David Share, president of the Avon Gear Co., in Shelby Township. “It’s not exciting. It’s not sexy. Parents, educators in high school and junior high, they don’t necessarily support manufacturing. We have to learn to get people interested.”

“Is it a lack of exposure or is it a lack of appeal?” Duncan asked,

“They go together,” Share said.

“The biggest challenge we have is persuading our parents this is a good career choice,” Perez said.

College officials said the $24.9 million grant will provide funding for the equipment upgrades to its M-TEC training center, which includes laser alignment, robotics vision systems, radio frequency identification tag reader conveyor, CNC robot load/unload and more.

Those targeted for training include displaced workers, employed workers who require skills upgrading and veterans. MCC’s portion of the grant is $9.6 million, the largest competitive grant the college has ever received.

“It will allow us to expand our capacity,” Jacobs said. “The program is employee-driven. The curriculum will provide mobility for students.”

Roundtable discussion member David Myles was one of three M-TEC students who talked about what led him to the M-TEC program. He had been working at a company that, after 50 years, closed its doors and left him without a job.

“My wife was sick with (multiple sclerosis). I was depressed and didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. He got a part-time job providing valet service at a local casino. “I was a mess, an absolute mess. I was parking cars for a living after a good-paying job.”

He lost his confidence, and the family home went into foreclosure. Now, after M-TEC, Myles is an advanced engineer for the local company Gonzalez Products. 

The other colleges in the coalition are Bay de Noc in Escanaba, which will receive $1.5 million; Grand Rapids, which will receive $4.1 million; Kellogg in Battle Creek to receive $2.7 million; Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor to receive $1.2 million; Lansing, which will receive $2.1 million; Mott in Flint, which will receive $2.7 million; and Schoolcraft College in Livonia, set to receive $1.1 million.

The M-TEC building is located on Tank Avenue, off Van Dyke Avenue, north of the I-696 freeway. Other members of the roundtable discussion were John Bierbusse, executive director, Macomb/St. Clair Workforce Development Board; Meschelle Wilson, MCC student; Joseph Petrosky, Dean of Engineering and Advanced Technology at MCC; Ekanger; Hanna Costello, human resource manager, Gentz Aero, LLC; and M-TEC student Joe Victor, robot engineer at Comau Inc., in Southfield.

Perez and Duncan also were scheduled to join Detroit leaders for the launch of “HIRE DETROIT!,” a campaign to address the city’s high unemployment rate and revitalize the region’s economy. The campaign encourages companies across the Detroit metropolitan area to hire at least one qualified unemployed city resident. The meeting will include Michigan and Detroit community leaders, and elected officials, including Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.