EXPLAINING THE PROCESS: David Chabukashvili, executive vice president of operations and marketing at Royer Corp., gives students from Madison Consolidated High School a tour of the plant on Friday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
EXPLAINING THE PROCESS: David Chabukashvili, executive vice president of operations and marketing at Royer Corp., gives students from Madison Consolidated High School a tour of the plant on Friday. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
About 150 students from Southwestern, Madison and Shawe Memorial high schools got a behind-the-scenes look at area manufacturing companies Friday.

The EcO15 initiative sponsored the event, which was called Manufacturing Day, to highlight the high-skills and technology-driven jobs available lin the area. This is first time the event has been held locally, which coincided with National Manufacturing Day.

Participating manufacturers included: Royer Corp., Indiana-Kentucky Electric, Meese Oribtron Dunne, Vehicle Service Group, Grote Industries, Century Tube, Arvin Sango and Madison Precision Products.

"The environment in manufacturing today is one of high technology, problem solving, critical thinking and team work," said Kathy Huffman, coordinator of EcO15.

She said the event was geared toward students interested in careers in science, technology, engineering and math, adding that local manufacturing jobs require a wide array of expertise.

"There is a need for people with certifications all the way to a PhD.," she said.

At Royer, about 20 Madison Consolidated High School students toured the facility and manufacturing floor. The company specializes in plastics and is the biggest producer of swizzle sticks in the nation. The Madison company contracts with 90 percent of the Las Vegas casinos and hotels to provide swizzle sticks. Royer also produces swizzle sticks for every Hard Rock Cafe location in the world.

"For them to realize that we have companies that are selling globally is really an eye-opener," Huffman said.

As part of the tour, Royer Executive Vice President of Operations and Marketing David Chabukashvili explained how several robotic modules and machines allow the company to work more efficiently. The company makes its own molds for its products, as well.

In recent years, Chabukashvili said the company has invested in digital printers to produce, among many items, decorative cupcake toppers. Royer mass produces the toppers featuring the video game characters Angry Birds, Snoopy and pop star Justin Bieber.

Chabukashvili said the company faced "a lot of hiccups" when first implementing the printers. But following the trial run, he said the company has been able to greatly increase its productivity and technology, so much that it's expanding the area for printers.

During the technology shift, Chabukashvili said the company did not lay off employees, but rather, switched employees to different areas.

Huffman said more than one-third of the 3,000 companies polled by the National Association of Manufacturers have well-paying jobs going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants.

She said she believes quality manufacturing positions will continue to be available in the Madison area. In southeast Indiana, the Region 9 Workforce Board is projecting manufacturers will offer more than 5,000 jobs through 2018.

Part of that will be due to older workers reaching retirement age, Huffman said.

"They're well aware that they're going to have to replace a lot of people in the next five to 10 years," she said.

Huffman said though this was the first run of the event locally, she wanted to coordinate the program again next year.

"That whole thing of connecting with the youth is really important in long-term work force development," she said.

"On the company end, we are hearing, 'We want these kids. They are our future,'" she said.