WILMINGTON — Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert hope the idea of a pseudo-gym for manufacturers will distinguish Wilmington’s entry in the America’s Best Communities competition.
Stuckert and Rembert are co-founders of Energize Clinton County, a nonprofit that’s heading up Wilmington’s part of the contest with help from P&G products, the city’s corporate sponsor for the competition.
Stuckert and Rembert are in the planning stage of their project – a kind of common workshop, known as a Makerspace, called Pioneer Labs.
Rembert compares Pioneer Labs, the name for the proposed Makerspace in Clinton County, to a gym membership for manufacturing.
He said some people pay for a gym membership because they don’t have all the equipment they need, enjoy the social environment or for programs and classes offered by the gym itself. Similarly, Pioneer Labs would aim to provide equipment, expertise, a community and space for manufacturers from hobbyist to big business.
It differs from gyms, Rembert said, by also being a nexus for businesses.
For instance, Rembert hopes to see small businesses manufacture and even be based in Pioneer Labs, and he wants to see large businesses use it to handle overflow tasks, manage resources or as a creative, open environment for their employees to explore.
In addition to business, Rembert and Stuckert hope Pioneer Labs can engage with students in the K-12 and higher education setting and with hobbyists and the general population.
“From our organization’s standpoint, we were interested in the idea because of the demand that we’ve been noticing for a skilled workforce,” Rembert said. “If you talk to people in the community who work around these components of a Makerspace … they will all tell you that they sense an issue of a lack of skilled workers” with some employers having unfilled positions for more than two years.
And, Stuckert and Rembert said it’s only likely to worsen as manufacturing’s workforce approaches retirement age, a forecast that’s particularly dire when considering the fact that manufacturing is Clinton County’s largest industry by number of employees.
“We currently have an issue of a shortage of that skilled workforce, and we have an impending, oncoming issue of losing even more people in that field,” Stuckert said. “So the question for our community and our workforce is where are we going to get that pipeline for those jobs?”
Pioneer Labs would also allow students to create a type of portfolio that could be used in applying for jobs, and, Stuckert and Rembert said, it would help people further their own hobbies or ideas.
“It’s bringing people together to share their interests around making,” Stuckert said.
“For students who really want to go beyond the classroom, there’s not really a space to do that,” Rembert said. “If you’re taking a 3-D design class, and you’re learning to 3-D print and you want to spend your weekends continuing to build and tinker … there’s not really a facility to support that. We hope the Makerspace can be that.”
Rembert also said that those employees who understand change and how to develop solutions will be better equipped to evolve and help their company evolve than employees who learn only one skill.
“With the Makerspace, hopefully people are going to get a much broader understanding of what it means to make and how manufacturing works, so they can learn how to machine a tool,” weld, code and build a robot, Rembert said. “And they can integrate all these things together. I think that more integrated training is going to give workers the tools to evolve.”
If their plan is deemed to be one of the top 15 out of 50 quarterfinalists, Stuckert and Rembert will move onto the implementation round and Wilmington will become a semifinalist. That announcement is expected Jan. 13; the plan is due Nov. 6.
Those chosen to be semifinalists will receive $100,000 from ABC to implement their plans.
The Clinton County Port Authority donated a $15,000 matching grant to the project and is expected to become home via a building at the Wilmington Air Park, which the port owns.
“This Makerspace will assist in the training of a new generation of manufacturing workers,” said Kevin Carver, executive director of the port, in a written statement. “Our local manufacturing workforce has a significant portion of its employees that will be retiring over the next five to 10 years, and having a venue to encourage those workers with advanced skill sets to train new workers is valuable.”
Carver said providing machinery and equipment for businesses to use instead of purchasing their own is also valuable.
“One view of pioneer labs is as an early stage incubator, which would allow members to envision, fabricate (and) create new products,” Carver continued. “We believe that having Pioneer Labs at the Air Park will allow for synergy with tenants at the Air Park as well as from the surrounding community. Our existing tenants have a wealth of manufacturing skill sets across a number of mediums. If Pioneer can tap into those individuals and businesses, it would provide a very robust platform to train their members.”
Pioneer Labs prospective home, Building H, has a mixture of office, classroom, meeting and industrial space, according to Carver, and is well suited for Pioneer Labs. Carver said it hasn’t received a “significant amount of interest” for a few years except for small users or those seeking storage space.
Carver, who emphasized that he doesn’t speak for the port’s board, said he anticipated the port would help Pioneer Labs and believed it will become a long-term, paying tenant at the air park.
The America’s Best Communities Prize Competition pits municipalities within Frontier Communications’ service area against each other to conceive, plan and implement a community revitalization plan. The competition pares down from all applicants to 50 quarterfinalists, 15 semifinalists, eight finalists and one grand prize winner, which is chosen in April of 2017.
For more information about Pioneer Labs, visit www.pioneer.energizecc.com.
Reach Nathan Kraatz at 937-382-2574, ext. 2510 or on Twitter @NathanKraatz.