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Manufacturing day gives kids options

PICTURE ROCKS — As part of an initiative to keep youth working in our area, about 150 students from local schools toured Lewis Lumber Products in Picture Rocks Friday for this year’s manufacturing day.

“We, as a company, need you,” said Keith Atherholt, president of the lumber mill, to the students who came from Montoursville, Hughesville, Selinsgrove and Sullivan County, among others.

Some students may come to work there, which the town and local economy desperately needs, he said.

Though it’s true that money will be lost by shutting down production for a day, Atherholt said that investing in the future is a worthwhile pursuit.

“I have white hair, and I’m not getting younger,” said Atherholt. “The rest of the city is in the same shape. We need young minds to come and work here.”

There are good jobs to be found in local manufacturing, ones that are more diverse than many people may realize, he said.

“We need lumber graders, we need order processors, we need people to help us out doing maintenance, welding, cutting metal,” he said, adding others include CAD drawers, accounting and, as the company is seeing more often, communication specialists are needed.

“If we’re going to be a successful business, we need to know how to communicate with people that are buying our products,” he said — a space where many students thrive.

Academic culture is flawed, Atherholt said, in that many kids today believe they need to go to college in order to find a good job.

“I’m not saying anything is wrong with college,” said Atherholt. “But there’s a lot of jobs that don’t require a college degree. If you don’t have a specified end goal that’s going to yield some return, why spend all that money?”

Not all students want to move away, some may want to stay close to family or where they grew up and earn an income.

“We need those people to be sound and solid and be able to take their earning money and spend it. That’s what drives the economy,” he said. “That’s why this is an effective tool.”

David Weigle, a teacher at Hughesville High School, said many of his students seemed interested in the tours.

“I think their eyes have been opened,” said Weigle, who teaches ninth grade.

Though many people drive through the area when heading north, most students have never paid the mill much mind.

“You have no idea the immensity of the facility, how far back it actually goes and how many people are employed,” he said. “Not only are there manufacturing jobs, but you have business jobs and engineering jobs — anything you would want a degree for.”

Tour guide for the day, but usually handling Lewis Lumber’s purchasing, was Adam Calvert.

“It’s tough to find people who just want to come work for the summer and stack lumber,” he said. “I think it’s good to show the kids that there’s something else besides sitting behind a desk.”

Calvert said he wasn’t sure if he met a future co-worker that day or “maybe a boss” even.

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