OSSINEKE - Employees at a local factory had a chance on Friday to voice their concerns in person with their lawmaker in Michigan's House of Representatives.
State Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, saw first-hand how deep-hole and gun drills are made or refurbished at Ossineke Industries Inc. He also heard about the challenges faced by manufacturers in northern Michigan.
Pettalia's visit was part of a tour of Northeast Michigan's industries where he, State Rep. Bruce Rendon, R-Lake City, and Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, visited factories in Tawas and Oscoda. Pettalia was the only one of the three to visit Ossineke Industries, which is a subsidiary of Star Cutter Company. The purpose of the tour was to ask plant managers for ways to improve the state's business climate, as well as exploring vocational education opportunities.
News Photo by Jordan Travis
Dennis Dziesinski of Ossineke Industries Inc., right, shows State Rep. Peter Pettalia, R-Presque Isle, center, one of the tools made at the factory. Pettalia was on a tour of Northeast Michigan industries to learn from employers ways to improve the state’s business climate, and to explore vocational education opportunities.
Jeffery Lawton, vice president of Star Cutter Company's cutting tool group, told Pettalia about the problem he's facing with the skills gap in the local workforce. Some of his workers with many years of experience will be retiring in five to 10 years, he said, and finding someone with the right training can be a challenge.
"We hear it constantly with other people we speak to," he said. "We complain about unemployment in the state, but one of the problems is that people come to our door looking for a job with nothing to offer."
Next year, Pettalia will be focusing on vocational education, he said, and he told Lawton and other plant officials that he's looking to find out what manufacturers need from educators. He also said vocational education opportunities have greatly shrunk over the years.
"There's such a void in our educational systems, it's really been disheartening to me," Pettalia said.
One tour leader at Ossineke Industries knows from personal experience how vocational education can lead to a long-term career. Bill Keen told Pettalia that he began at the factory in 1978 through a high school co-op. After being hired as a shipping clerk, he attended Alpena Community College and eventually was hired on full-time as a machine operator. Now, he's the plant manager.
Ossineke Industries has been operating since 1972, Lindsey Bielby, human resource manager for Star Cutter, said. The factory makes drills used to cut the grooves inside of gun barrels, as well as deep-hole drills used in the manufacture of truck engines and transmissions. The company, which employs 53, also sells drills to the gas and oil, aerospace and medical industries. Their customers include General Motors, Chrysler and Toyota, and they sell their products in many different countries, including Mexico, China and South Korea.
After speaking with Lawton and Keen, Pettalia fielded questions about his legislative efforts from some of the factory workers and supervisors. He answered questions about bovine tuberculosis in deer and cattle, as well as his efforts to overturn Michigan's helmet law for motorcyclists.
"We're surrounded by states that don't have a helmet law," he said. "We're losing the potential to attract those tourists to Michigan," which costs the state millions of dollars every year.
The bill Pettalia sponsored would require anyone under the age of 21 and with less than two years of riding experience to wear a helmet, he said.
"The studies show that folks that are involved in motorcycle accidents are under 21 and have less than two years of experience," he said.
Pettalia also spoke of the difficulties in funding Michigan's roads and bridges. While answering a question about a proposed $10 increase in the state's vehicle registration fee, he said an alternative would be an increase in gasoline taxes. He didn't like the proposed registration fee increase, he said, but he also wouldn't want to see a gas tax increase.
"I'm a really strong advocate for roads, bridges and infrastructure," he said, adding that they're vital to the economy of Northeast Michigan.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5688.