A recent tour by Muskogee area educators of the Refresco plant in Fort Gibson is part of an ongoing joint effort of manufacturers and the education community to raise awareness of career opportunities in manufacturing.
The Muskogee Area Educational Consortium held their April meeting at Fort Gibson-based Refresco, formerly Whitlock Packaging Corp. This was the seventh plant tour educators have taken through this committee.
Other tours have included Advantage Controls, Dal-Tile, Georgia-Pacific, Griffin Foods, the OG&E power plant and Vallourec.
Refresco is the world’s largest independent bottler of beverages for retailers and store brands with production in Europe, North America and Mexico, attendees were told. The Fort Gibson facility began operations as Whitlock Packaging in 1980, and occupies a 500,000-square-foot facility employing more than 200 people.
At the meeting, the Action In Muskogee (AIM) Education Excellence Committee presented seven of their “17 in 2017” awards, said Dr. Kaylin Coody, superintendent of Hilldale Public Schools and chairwoman of the Muskogee Area Educational Consortium.
Recipients were recognized for the contributions to STEM Education in Muskogee.
Connie Stout, AIM Education Excellence chair, recognized several groups and individuals, including Advantage Controls, Connors State College, Hilldale Public Schools, Indian Capital Technology Center, Marie Synar, Muskogee Area Education Consortium and Northeastern State University.
Coody said with the help of the Greater Muskogee Manufacturers Alliance, local educational leaders are making a strong effort to connect with business and industries in the area.
“ICTC, the area institutions of higher education and our local public schools believe developing the workforce for local employers is one of our key responsibilities,” she said. “Meeting with local companies is one way we are reaching out to find out what skills they need our students to have to help make them more profitable.”
Synar, director of the Port of Muskogee’s Industrial Development office, said the purpose of these tours is to increase exposure and break down any barriers of misunderstanding between manufacturing and education.
“Through the Port’s Dream It. Do It. committee, our goal is to change the negative perception of the manufacturing industry and encourage more high school students to pursue careers in manufacturing,” Synar said.
The Dream It. Do It. Program is a national grassroots coalition of workforce, education and industry partners working together to combat the negative perceptions of the manufacturing industry and raise awareness of manufacturing careers, she said.
Eight local manufacturing representatives serve on the Dream It. Do It. committee, alongside educational and workforce partners to develop strategies to create a future pipeline of workers. Jeremiah Jarecke, plant manager for Refresco, said he was happy the plant was able to participate.
“We were glad to host this tour for our local educators and workforce partners,” Jarecke said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average salary for manufacturing jobs in Muskogee County is $52,395 per year, compared to $38,667 for all industries combined.
“You can earn a good living in manufacturing,” Jarecke said. “We need to educate our teachers and educational leaders about the opportunities available locally for their students.”
The Muskogee Area Educational Consortium is composed of more than 21 public and technical schools and higher education institutions in the Muskogee area, who have banded together in a cooperative venture to promote, improve and strengthen education in local schools and communities.