Reviving Austin's glory days

Youth symposium on careers in manufacturing could spark future community development

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By LA RISA LYNCH

U.S. manufacturing is not dead, it just lacks highly-skilled and trained workers, say organizers of an upcoming symposium sponsored by educators of Austin's manufacturing-focused high school.

The symposium, "Advanced Technology, Training and Leadership in Manufacturing: A Renaissance for the West Side," takes place this Saturday Oct. 18, at Austin Polytechnical Academy, 231 N. Pine Ave. APA, one of three small schools on the Austin high school campus, focuses on training students in the manufacturing industry.

The free event includes seminars on careers in the field and on emerging technology. Information on job training programs will also be available, as well as a youth workshop on robotics and engineering.

"Manufacturing today is much different than it was 10 years ago, much less 20 to 30 years ago," said Erica Swinney-Stein, of the Center for Labor and Community Research (CLCR), a non-profit consulting and research organization.

Manufacturing, Swinney-Stein noted, is still one of the top three sectors in the economy but suffers from a shortage of skilled workers. Jobs in the industry are less labor-intensive but more hi-tech.

"They require a much higher level of critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It is not yesterday's manufacturing," she said.

To help residents better understand manufacturing, the Center for Labor has teamed up with the Digital Development Oversight Committee to host the day-long symposium. One of its goals is to spark discussion on transforming Austin into a manufacturing powerhouse. The loss of West Side manufacturing companies like Sunbeam and Western Electric in the '70s and '80s devastated communities such as Austin. But redevelopment has come in the form of gentrification, retail jobs and a distribution center to be located on the Brach's site, 401 N. Cicero, explained Swinney-Stein.

Instead of becoming a place of "Wal-Marts and warehouses," Austin could be a center for manufacturing windmills for the renewable energy sector, she stressed. Austin Polytech has already partnered with 44 different manufacturing companies and offers certification in National Institute of Metalworking Skills.

"This is how we move into a global economy by preparing our young people for what is to come and that is high skilled manufacturing," said Lowry Taylor, executive director of the Digital Development Oversight Committee.

Taylor noted Austin has the highest unemployment in the city. He wants the city to get on board with making Austin and the West Side a manufacturing hub.

"It's all about developing human capital," he said.

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