A Publication of WTVP

An unusual competition is the latest project from the Greater Peoria EDC’s Strategic Manufacturing Group.

Greater Peoria is the Earthmoving Capital of the World—there is simply no doubt about it. Between Caterpillar, Komatsu and Kress, we have bragging rights around this significant sector. And with that designation comes great opportunity, as well as some big challenges. As our earthmovers and their suppliers work hard to manufacture machines, they struggle to find their number-one resource: talent.

The Modern Picture of Manufacturing
Burning Glass, a labor market analytics firm working with the State of Illinois’ 60 by 25 Network to boost the percentage of state residents with college credentials, recently shared some statistics around our manufacturing workforce needs. Between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014, they were able to pull 3,279 job postings for specialized skills in manufacturing in our region; repair, machinery and purchasing were the skills in greatest need by local employers. With their continuous cry for more welders, electrical mechanical technicians and purchasing managers, our manufacturers lend credence to the data.

Ask a teen in our region what they hope to do when they finish school, and you are not likely to hear the word “manufacturing.” Many of them picture a dirty old factory, or an assembly line of monotonous tasks. And why not? How many times do teens, parents or teachers have the opportunity to tour one of our local manufacturing operations? How often do we showcase the modern picture of manufacturing and the exciting, hands-on careers that can be found in that industry?

Having recognized this issue years ago, the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council’s Strategic Manufacturing Group continues to introduce events and projects that change the way manufacturing is viewed. In addition to its yearly Discover Manufacturing Expo and Educators Day, our most recent project is all about mini-golf.

A Competition is Born
When a tornado struck Washington in November 2013, the Hillcrest Golf Course was destroyed. All of its buildings and most of its equipment were blasted away or damaged beyond repair. Since that terrible day, owner Brian Brubaker and his staff have made enormous steps toward recovery. The course is once again open, and a new clubhouse and maintenance building are under construction. Unfortunately, their insurance wouldn’t cover the replacement of their 18-hole mini-golf course, a favorite community gathering spot for over half a century.

As Brian considered the future of the course, friends Denny and Cathy Lane had an idea: perhaps local students could put their imaginations to work to create Rube Goldberg-like mini-golf stations, with area manufacturers offering advice and resources. Cathy reached out to Steve Stewart at Excel Foundry, who recognized an opportunity to help Brian, as well as get local youth engaged in an exciting manufacturing project. Steve brought the project to the Greater Peoria EDC’s Strategic Manufacturing Group, and a competition was born.

High school teams from throughout the region have registered for the challenge to design, manufacture and fabricate some very unusual mini-golf holes during the spring semester. Illinois Central College is offering each team some time to use its welding and machining labs; they can also request components to be fabricated by ICC students. Each team is paired with an area manufacturer who is serving as a coach and mentor, and several trade groups are building concrete foundations.

Moving Earth…
The final designs were submitted by the teams at the end of February. Fabrication and installation will be completed by the first of June, with a tentative celebration and grand opening planned for June 2nd.

What a terrific partnership! Our region gets an exciting new attraction, and local teens have a hands-on manufacturing experience that might plant a seed for their future. Steve tells me our Strategic Manufacturing Group plans to continue on this path, hosting a manufacturing challenge each year to inspire students to consider manufacturing careers. Some might say we are moving mountains in this arena… I think our team would call it “moving earth” instead. iBi