Written by Kurt Moore, as published in The Marion Star, May 23, 2012
MARION -- Marion's efforts to create a robotics hub are getting recognized as work continues toward building a training center at Tri-Rivers Career Center.
Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee used the proposed robotics training center as an example of education spurring job creation while he spoke to the Marion Rotary Club on Tuesday. He also toured RobotWorx where employees showed him two robots that will be donated to the center.
The center will be housed at Tri-Rivers but will be a collaboration between Tri-Rivers, Marion Technical College and The Ohio State University at Marion. Its focus will be on training area residents to work with industrial robotics and automation, considered a need by local industries for which company officials say they can't find enough skilled employees.
Gee spoke to Tri-Rivers Superintendent Chuck Speelman on Tuesday and complimented him on his work on the center. He also made reference to it as he talked to Rotarians.
"Great things you are doing," he said. "Partnership is the name of our game."
While at RobotWorx, employees treated him by placing photos of Ohio State's logo and a bow tie, similar to those traditionally worn by Gee, on the robots that will be donated to the program. Gee signed the photo of the bow tie and spoke to Keith Wanner, the company's chief executive officer, before posing for photos with the staff.
Speelman said he has gotten other phone calls from around the country about the plans. He said Gee's and others' interest offers a "certain amount of legitimacy" to the need for the project.
"Everybody's bringing things to the table," he said.
The next step toward construction of the center is screening applicants and hiring a construction manager to oversee the project. Preparation work has started on the site as the plan is to complete construction by September.
"I think this is huge. People will figure out how big of a boost this will be," Speelman said. "I am getting calls from other communities. They just can't believe the speed at which we are putting this together."
Wanner agreed with the need, saying the company tries to hire most of its employees locally but isn't finding residents skilled at working with industrial robots. He said there is a local demand as well as a national need because of a lack of school programs stressing industrial robotics.
"Marion is like the mecca of industrial robotics," he said. He estimated that about 80 percent of the market for industrial robots is within 150 miles of Marion in cities like Detroit where they are used in automotive plants.
"We are trying to come up with ways to help the Marion area," Wanner said, referring to the company's efforts to partner with the schools on the project. He said this could be a "complete rebirth of the area" once known as a powerhouse in manufacturing.
Gee stressed the importance of education to economic job growth and partnerships such as what's happening in Marion while speaking to Marion Rotarians. He referred to Microsoft chairman and co-founder Bill Gates. Gates may have dropped out of college, he said, but owes his success to universities for creating technology including the computer.
"We need to build a fence around Ohio," Gee said, using it as a metaphor to describe what he said is a need to convince talented Ohioans to stay within the state instead of going elsewhere.
Asked about plans to build a science classroom building on Marion Campus, he referred to efforts to raise money for the project while saying Ohio State will remain committed to its regional campuses.
"The university talks a lot. We need a bit more action," he said.
Reporter Kurt Moore: 740-375-5151, firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @StarKurtMoore