NACOGDOCHES — Hundreds of Angelina and Nacogdoches County students attended Manufacturing Day to learn about different job opportunities in East Texas and to interact with manufacturers at the Nacogdoches County Exposition and Civic Center.

The event was organized by the East Texas Manufacturing Alliance, a recently formed coalition of area manufacturers.

“We hope this event will bring about an awareness and excitement for manufacturing to students in our region,” said Staci Hodges, executive director of Junior Achievement and lead support partner for ETMA. “Our goal of the ETMA is to grow the awareness and prepare our future workforce, so that we can grow the economy in East Texas. One of Junior Achievement’s pillars is work readiness. We want to inspire students to dream big and to reach their potential.”

Students attended panels led by leading manufacturers and had a chance to meet with educational institutions, organizations and the 25 different manufacturers present.

“Events like this help students see opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise know about,” Cushing High School senior Amanda Moses said. “I didn’t know that most of these industries were going into automated rather than manual labor so now there’s more students who are going to know about that and about different career paths they can take.”

Cushing High School senior Kirsten McCormack said she was surprised to see how many jobs didn’t require college and how the employers were willing to train people.

Debra Smith, vice president of Smith Sawmill Service, attended Manufacturing Day to introduce the Shelby County business to more students.

“We have a very niche market when it comes to manufacturing — we supply cutting tools for the forest industry,” Smith said. “Being based in East Texas, we want to let our students know that we’re out here because, unlike electricians and plumbers that have certifications and programs, there’s not a saw filing school, and that is the main crux of our business.”

Smith is a parent and grandparent, and she was an educator for 17 years. She said that many times, students don’t know what opportunities are in their backyard. She once gave her eighth-grade business math class an assignment to write down as many separate jobs as they could, and they were surprised at how small their list ended up being, she said.

“Getting to see the kids and engage with them and let them know that this is a stable job where you get to be home every night, is good for them,” Smith said.

The booths engaged students with all sorts of displays from the Angelina College Technology and Workforce Divisions’ bulldozer simulator to Mast Motorsports’ line of vintage cars and engines.

Diboll High School junior Nathan Mettlen said he was most interested in the Mast Motorsports display because he had never thought about that as a career before.

“Events like this give students an opportunity to be out in the world and see what jobs are available,” Nacogdoches High School junior Ledarrius Fowler said. “I’m really grateful to have this opportunity.”

Ledarrius, Nathan, Amanda and Kirsten said they were most engaged by the booths where they could personally speak to the different manufacturers and see what they do.

“We have to work with children when they first finish school,” said Emilia Grubb, CFO of Solaro Energy. “Manufacturing for the last 60 years is dying. We ship everything to China. Trade schools are seeing less, young children are losing the skills because they have no jobs. We believe we have to compete with China in an intelligent way.”

One manufacturing job affects many others, Grubb said. By the time Solaro finished its main attic ventilation product, it has bought from several different businesses.

The ETMA and Manufacturing Day have been in the works for about two years, Twin Disk Operations Manager Tim Stacy said.

The T.L.L. Temple Foundation gave grant money to a consulting firm called Next Gen Sector Partnerships. The consulting group gathered different manufacturers together and explained that there are many similar partnerships happening around the U.S.

“I think it’s really important to keep our kids here in East Texas and show them that they can have a career and raise a family here and do well,” Stacy said. “The goal is to bring awareness of manufacturing to the students, to show them the various jobs that can take place.”

Manufacturers employ a multitude of people with different skill sets, Stacy said. He said he hopes students will become exposed to the different types of jobs available in and around their hometowns.

The ETMA hopes to make Manufacturing Day a staple in East Texas each year.

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.