Q/A with Gail Alpert, president of FIRST in Michigan

It is estimated that 65 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have job titles that do not currently exist. Many of these new roles will be related to STEM, so it is imperative that young people have opportunities to explore and become educated in these fields.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics is a program that does just that. Its mission is to inspire young people to become science and technology leaders by engaging them in mentor-based programs and competitions. These events challenge students to raise funds, design a brand, hone teamwork skills and build and program industrial-size robots that play difficult field games against like-minded program_gail_alpert.jpgcompetitors. According to FIRST, this is as close to real-world engineering as a student can get.

To learn more about this innovative program, the Macomb Business blog sat down with Gail Alpert, president of FIRST in Michigan, for a Q and A.

Q1: Business and government leaders here in Michigan are very much invested in workforce development and building the next generation of talent. FIRST Robotics and FIRST programming can be an important part of that process. Why is that the case?

A: FIRST is designed to entice high schools students to choose a career in engineering, technology and the skilled trades through the building of a robot with the help of industry mentors from sponsoring companies. Students have the chance to see the tremendous capabilities of their mentors and follow in their footsteps, while the mentors can hand pick the students that best fit their companies for internships and jobs early on, long before the students are recruited by other companies.

Q2: In addition to STEM skills, many FIRST Robotics students develop confidence and communication abilities. How does FIRST programming help young people in this capacity and why should that matter to businesses?

A: There is no better tool in the student’s tool box than learning how to communicate in an effective, concise way. You can have the best product in the world, but if you cannot articulate why it’s the best, or why it’s needed, it means nothing. FIRST students not only compete with their robots, but are interviewed by a group of Judges about their robot and their team as part of the competition.  They are extremely well spoken and confident after participating in FIRST.

Q3: With these sentiments in mind, why should businesses get involved with FIRST Robotics and how can they do so? And to clarify, can businesses without a STEM-focus help as well?

A: All types of companies are and can be involved in FIRST, because all companies can play a vital role on a FIRST team even if they don’t have a STEM focus. Each team functions like a small business taking a product from inception to market.  Aside from designing, building and fabricating the robot, the teams have to do marketing, fundraising, budgeting and outreach.  All companies have some type of expertise that teams can use. Additionally, companies use FIRST to identify leaders and develop leadership skills among their current workforce.

Getting involved is easy. Simply contact me at Gail.Alpert@gmail.com. The busy season for high school teams is January through April. The season ends with the World Competition at Cobo Center on April 25-27 with about 40,000 people in attendance.

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Q4: Can you share any anecdotes from businesses that got involved with FIRST Robotics? Did they have positive experiences?

A: FIRST is always a win-win for companies that get involved. Two great examples come to mind. The first was a student that was hired as an intern at a tier one automotive supplier in his junior year. The very first day on the job, the student was given a software program that was relatively new to the company.  His mentor told him to play around it with it.  After lunch, the mentor returned and asked him how he was coming. The FIRST student replied: “Take a look. I created a game out of it.” The mentor was stunned.

The second story is about a student that planned to go into business rather than engineering.  He interned during his freshman year of college at the company that sponsored his high school robotics team.  About 20 of us were there for a meeting. The intern was running the meeting and was absolutely phenomenal.

Q5: What’s next for FIRST in Michigan? Are there any new initiatives, partnerships or expansions in the pipeline?

A: We always have new initiatives on the horizon. This year, the state money available through the Marshall Plan is creating fantastic opportunities for collaboration between FIRST teams and companies as communities come up with inventive ways to grow the STEM workforce. At least two of the proposals that were chosen for Plan funding included partnerships with FIRST.

FIRST is also focused on expanding our programs all the way down to kindergarten. In fact, 78 school districts across Michigan currently run all 4 of our programs (high school, middle school, upper and lower elementary school.) This season we are piloting a Pre-K program as well. It’s never too early to foster interest in STEM!

Detroit has been a huge focus for several years as we work to give every student in the city the opportunity to participate. Nearly every high school in Detroit has a FIRST team already, so we created a partnership with the Detroit Police Athletic League and Quicken Loans to start new teams at the middle school and elementary level. Ford, the FCA Foundation, the GM Foundation and Google are helping too. We are working with the Detroit Public Schools Community District to put FIRST in all third grade classrooms.

Finally, the state grant for FIRST, created about 5 years ago, enabled us to expand FIRST to the smallest of school districts in the most remote areas of the state. We are working to make sure the new legislature understands just how critical this funding is to all of our teams and to the continued development of the STEM workforce.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

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STEAM camp prepares young students for future careers

Last week a unique summer camp took place at Macomb Community College focused on STEAM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and math. The summer camp, funded through a grant from General Motors, was an immersive program specifically designed to engage middle school students from Macomb County. From college style lectures to touring real world laboratories, each day of the five-day camp had activities dedicated to one area of STEAM. For instance, on the science day, students learned a few chemistry magic tricks.

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“My favorite activity was the golden pennies,” said Emily Auchter. “They were so cool. First the pennies were cleaned with vinegar and water and then we put them in a zinc solution. Once they were silver, we took them and held them over the flames. They then turned gold.”

On the third day of camp, the students learned about art and engineering by designing and building model race cars. Ava Crnovrsanin was awarded the most aerodynamic car.  “My favorite activity was the edible cars,” she said. “Together, my partner and I made a car out of food. We then tested our cars by sending it down a ramp to see how fast it could run. Our car made it down the fastest.”

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Although each day was filled with activities, the camp also allowed the students to bond around their favorite subjects. “My favorite activity was Math Day,” said Shelby Lafferty. “I enjoyed it because I could hang out with my friends and learn at the same time.  They made math fun.”

Outside of simply providing a fun atmosphere, camps like the one held at Macomb Community College help prepare students for the future economy. It is estimated that 65 percent of today’s kindergarteners will have job titles that do not currently exist. And many of those roles will be related to STEAM. So it is imperative that young people have opportunities to explore and become educated in these fields.

Macomb County is making big strides in this area. We collaborate with partners to develop and support initiatives that expose students to STEAM career possibilities and point them to educational pathways that lead to meaningful employment. This work includes:

  • The Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development partners with the Macomb Intermediate School District, along with an active planning committee and generous sponsors, to coordinate one of the nation’s largest celebrations of Manufacturing Day (MFG Day). Since 2014, more than 7,000 students have visited a nearby plant to see industry in action and learn about career possibilities.
  • The Department has also partnered with Romeo Community Schools as they work towards becoming Michigan’s first Ford Next Generation Learning community. The newly established Academies of Romeo will enable students to choose a thematic course of study – such as engineering, health care or information technology – and learn in a relevant, hands-on environment. Students learn math, science, English and social studies within the theme they choose.
  • Macomb Community College hosts AUTO Steam Days, a two-day hands-on opportunity for students to explore careers in automotive design, robotics, manufacturing and technology.
  • The Michigan Automotive & Defense Cyber Awareness Team (MADCAT) partners with academia and area U.S. Department of Defense assets to develop a career pathway for high school and college students in cybersecurity.

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Those are just a few examples of the many programs and partnerships Macomb County is pursuing to fuel our talent pipeline and prepare the next generation for STEAM-related work opportunities. Through these efforts, we hope to ensure economic stability in our region for many years to come. But ultimately, our goal is to give our young people the tools they need to succeed and connect their passion with opportunity.

Megan Ochmanek is a communications specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Macomb County represents at Paris Air Show

paris-airshow-logoThe International Paris Air Show at Le Bourget has been the aviation and space industry’s largest dedicated show, with over 2,100 international exhibitors, 139,000 trade visitors, 1.4 million square feet of exhibition area sold and 150 aircraft flying displays. This event occurs in Paris every two years and brings the entire industry together with over 2,300 international companies.

The Paris Air Show gives the Macomb County Planning & Economic Development team the chance to meet with F-35 suppliers, receive the most up-to-date information in aviation, and the opportunity to network with companies outside of Michigan and, more importantly, tell our story! Getting ready for a show this large requires a great deal of prep work. Working with my dedicated teammates, I am ready to take on a week full of networking and interfacing with major international companies, F-35 suppliers and aviation specialists.

f-35Speaking of the F-35, two landed safely in France last week to debut at the Paris Air Show. Depending on the weather, the F-35 will fly during the trade show, and I will be sure to take videos to share with all of you on our social media page. The F-35 demonstrations in Paris will be the first opportunity for international audiences to see its true capabilities, including acrobatic and high G-force maneuvers. These moves are often comparable to what audiences see during performances of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds.

As many of you are also aware, Selfridge Air National Guard Base is in the running (along with four other states) to be one of two Air National Guard beddown locations for the F-35A Lighting II aircraft. It’s important for Macomb County to take part in the Paris Air Show and meet with Lockheed Martin suppliers to discuss the importance of why Macomb County, and more specifically, why Selfridge ANGB is the perfect and most logical choice to bring the F-35 aircraft.

My goal for the trip is to meet with F-35 suppliers, especially those outside of Michigan, and to tell the story of “why” Macomb County. With a large veteran population, over $2 billion in defense contracts annually and a competitive workforce, it should be a no-brainer that these suppliers will want to tap into and be a part of this monumental opportunity for Michigan and the county.

Janelle Arbuckle.pngJanelle Arbuckle is an economic development specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.

Lockheed Martin visits Macomb County

Macomb County welcomed a team of representatives from Lockheed Martin for an invitation-only matchmaking event last week.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 97,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

DSC_4068-updateThe event was spearheaded by our department in collaboration with the Macomb County Chamber, Macomb Community College, Macomb Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center and Pure Michigan Business Connect.

By all accounts, the day was a success for Lockheed Martin as well as the 50 companies that were selected to participate. Behind the scenes, many months of preparation were involved.

DSC_4053The first, and most important, accomplishment was to convince Lockheed Martin that suppliers throughout our region were capable and eager to fulfill contracts with them.

The growing strength of Macomb County’s aerospace industry and its linkage to the supply chain helped to seal the deal.

Encouraged by the strong interest shown by the company, the planning team helped to develop an online vetting process for interested companies. Initially, more than 300 companies completed the online form. Of that, 120 met the basic qualifications and underwent a second vetting process. In the end, 50 highly capable companies from across the state were selected to attend.

DSC_3953The event was held at Macomb Community College’s University Center in Clinton Township and opened with remarks from Macomb County Executive Mark A. Hackel; Gen. John D. Slocum, commander of Selfridge Air National Guard Base; and Dr. Jim Jacobs, president of Macomb Community College.

Officials from Lockheed Martin offered overviews of each division and procurement needs. After lunch, one-on-one networking sessions between companies and procurement specialists were held. The event ended with a networking reception.

As the aerospace industry continues to evolve and grow, we anticipate programs, such as the Lockheed F-35 program, will have a stronger linkage to our supply chain here in Macomb County.  Preparing our businesses and workforce for the next generation aircraft is our business, and these matchmakers will keep them on their radar for future needs.

Related links:

https://www.politicscentral.org/contracting-giant-lockheed-looks-macombs-defense-corridor/

http://www.macombdaily.com/general-news/20170518/lockheed-martin-visits-macomb-county-to-connect-with-potential-suppliers

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Vicky Rad is the deputy director of the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.

Dubai Airshow: Commercial and defense spending in aviation to grow domestically and abroad

Seven thousand miles separate Detroit from Dubai, but within this span, there is a vast amount of opportunities between these two regions.  Last week, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosted the Dubai Airshow, promising to hold the most significant airshow in the world.  Even though this year did not topple the 2013 record breaking $200 billion in sales orders, there were many indicators on where the world is heading in aviation.

znV7AjM2pWuc_6b-7lcdaU9LP3q572uYQzgucJER6gwI was fortunate to be able to join Automation Alley on this trade mission to the Middle East and was joined by three other Macomb County companies, Alpha Precision Aerospace, Hydra-Lock and Mobile Data Holdings.  Other regional partners included Detroit Airport Corporation, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, MAMA and Wayne County.  My strategy on this trip was very different than other business attraction missions, as I went there specifically to talk about the mature aerospace and defense market in Macomb County and to explore export and supply chain opportunities.

There are many opportunities for aerospace parts, tooling and automation manufacturers to become immersed in this market as Boeing and Airbus struggle to fulfill back orders on new aircraft platforms.  These production orders will dominate the global commercial aviation market and the trend is expected to continue over the next 10 to 15 years.  Couple this with the growing demand for maintenance and repair of existing aircraft, Macomb County aerospace companies have the ability to join the supply chain – on a global scale.

One of my meetings in particular was with a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian airlines where I learned about a major aircraft repair and overhaul facility planned at Jeddah Airport in Saudi Arabia.  They are seeking repair and spare part component manufacturers.  In Abu-Dhabi, the giant investment partner, Mubadala is investing in companies that can bring new manufacturing technologies to the market. And the big news was UAE’s space program strategy which has an aggressive mission to send unmanned probes to Mars by 2021.

The big theme that emerged from the Dubai Airshow is commercial and defense spending in aviation is here now and will continue to grow both domestically and abroad.  Companies looking to expand into this market will need to strategically grow their international presence and their global footprint in the Middle East and Asian markets.  Trade missions such as this provide us a window to meet and build relationships with decision makers who can bring these opportunities front and center for our businesses.

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Vicky Rad is the deputy director for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.

 

Macomb County touts aerospace opportunities at international expo

Organized by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the first-ever National Aerospace Foreign Direct Investment Exposition was an opportunity for states across the country to showcase their growing aerospace industries to international companies.

Department Deputy Director Vicky Rad and I attended the expo in Los Angeles on behalf of Macomb County. Prior to the event, we had been able to secure meetings with companies from Australia, Canada, Germany and Mexico looking to expand or establish a presence in the United States. Once we arrived, we were able to meet with U.S. Commercial Service and Trade & Investment representatives from Switzerland, China, Italy and the United Kingdom.

During each of these meetings, and in conversations with companies throughout the conference, we had the opportunity to enlighten and inform attendees about Michigan’s economic comeback. Moreover, we were able to demonstrate that Michigan is more than automotive – a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers report named Michigan No. 2 in the nation for aerospace manufacturing competitiveness, and it doesn’t stop there. Jobs in Michigan related to aerospace have grown 35 percent since 2009, and one third of the top 100 global aerospace companies are now present in the greater Detroit region.

Macomb County in particular has seen impressive growth in this industry, with companies such as KUKA Systems North America and Global Tooling Systems recently investing a combined $15 million and creating nearly 200 local jobs. Macomb County’s aerospace industry has grown 52 percent over the last decade, outpacing both the state at 46.6 percent and the nation at 2.6 percent.

We have a great story to tell at Macomb County, and it’s only getting better. As we continue to travel the country (and world!) to promote our county’s assets, we have the opportunity to change perceptions about our region’s competitiveness, growth and future potential.

Tracey, Alyssa IMG_0194Alyssa Tracey is a senior economic development specialist for the Macomb County Department of Planning & Economic Development.