With the Stark County Commission declaring Oct. 13 as Manufacturing Day, 850 students from across southwest North Dakota traveled to the Henry Biesiot Activities Center Wednesday to learn more about what manufacturing has to offer, especially in this region.

The “Dream it. Do it.” program hosted its annual Manufacturing Day for high school students where they could network with representatives from five of the leading companies in the region — Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing (KMM), TMI, Baker Boy, Fisher Industries and Steffes — on manufacturing opportunities after graduation. Representatives from North Dakota State College of Science - Wahpeton, Dickinson State University, Bismarck State College and North Dakota State University also set up booths to interact with students.

“Dream it. Do it.” includes all of the manufacturing companies within southwest North Dakota, including KMM, TMI, Steffes, Baker Boy and Fisher Industries. Coordinator for “Dream it. Do it.” and Fisher Industries Marketing Director Eric Kittelson said he was pleased to see such a “fantastic” turnout.

“So what we're trying to do is promote manufacturing careers amongst all of the southwest North Dakota high school students,” Kittelson said. “This was a great opportunity for them to gain interest in those careers, and maybe hopefully try to keep them around and just let them know that there are great careers and jobs in southwest North Dakota.”

Shared Resource Manager Tim Hansen, left, and HR Recruiter Tiffany Benner of Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing smile during Manufacturing Day Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, at the Biesiot Activities Center. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
Shared Resource Manager Tim Hansen, left, and HR Recruiter Tiffany Benner of Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing smile during Manufacturing Day Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, at the Biesiot Activities Center. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

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KMM’s HR Recruiter Tiffany Benner and Shared Resource Manager Tim Hansen talked to students about the importance of manufacturing.

“As far as manufacturing goes, it's a huge portion of all of the jobs here in North Dakota so that's a big thing. And it's nice because we all have somewhat the same jobs but different aspects,” Benner said. “So as far as KMM specifically, we look at process engineers, supply chain and even just general production operators, because we (are) just building wires and circuit cards and things like that. But manufacturing is huge and I think it's important that the kids understand all of the different careers within manufacturing that are out there, and it's not the normal jobs that (there) used to be so.”

Over the summers, KMM has integrated an internship program that has steadily grown year over year, Hansen said. Just this past summer, the manufacturing company had 12 interns between its Dickinson and Killdeer facilities. Being able to come out for Manufacturing Day is a way to show young students what there is to offer here locally, he added.

“... It's a fantastic opportunity for students to come out and see that not only can they get just a job or get their foot in the door… it's not always about getting a degree,” Hansen said. “Sometimes you could come out of high school and not really have a plan. (They’re) able to come and work for a lot of really great companies that don't require all that education. Maybe down the road they figure out, ‘Hey, I want to go to school and I want to be an engineer, or I want to work in HR’ or whatever the case might be — there's a lot of great companies right here in southwest North Dakota that are willing to employ those people and get their foot in the door. So it’s great.”

Despite the shutdowns with the coronavirus pandemic, KMM is working toward bringing a lot of those employees who were laid off back to the company as it was the third business in Stark County for the largest number of employees, Hansen continued. In the coming year, KMM will continue to bring new work to its Dickinson, Killdeer, and Hettinger facilities as space opens up.

“The other big accomplishment that we've got going on is even through all the struggles that we've had, we're now moving forward and almost to the point where we're ready to pull the trigger on opening a fourth facility in Kerrville, Texas,” Hansen said. “So we're expanding as far as manufacturing goes, not just within southwestern North Dakota but the opportunities that that brings down there, enhances the opportunities that we get here so that's that's really good.”

Benner added, “Another thing is, as a recruiter, we're learning that a lot of people if they haven't worked at KMM, they don't know what we do at KMM. So we're really trying to do a community outreach as far as educating the community on what KMM does, the opportunities and the growth that it has within Dickinson and Stark County.”

HR Manager Shelly Hanson of Fisher Industries noted that the day was a chance for local manufacturers to educate youth on career opportunities after high school.

“At Fisher Industries, we've been in business for 69 years and we do construction. So we are Sand and Gravel. On the General Steel and Supply, we do the manufacturing. We do a couple of different pieces of equipment — air separators, conveyor belts, stuff like that. So it's a big industry that is needed in this area of North Dakota,” Hanson noted.

For Steffes’ Environmental Health and Safety Technician Andy Bosset, Manufacturing Day was his first youth-community outreach event he’s attended.

“So I am very new to the world of manufacturing myself. But just from an inside perspective, it's critically important to what southwestern North Dakota is all about with providing and supporting products for the oilfield, which is a major driving industry out here. But of course, we service other things besides that. (Manufacturing's) just a major impactful sort of work for this area.

“It's great to speak to these guys because… a lot of kids that we've spoken to today don't necessarily have an idea what they want to do when they get out of high school. But a lot of them have some sort of background that would make them an easy fit into the manufacturing world, such as welding or mechanical experience or anything like that,” Bosset said. “So it's really nice to help show them that there are those opportunities.”

In August, Steffes announced its decision to expand into the Southeast through the acquisition of a manufacturing facility in Shelby, N.C. Bosset noted that the company will continue working locally on projects pertaining to the oilfield and drafting plans that will help Steffes provide less of an environmental impact with the sort of work that the company does.

“So Steffes, as a company, it’s been extremely resilient throughout the entire pandemic and the pitfalls that we've experienced with oil… It's shown its innovation in pursuing new avenues for manufacturing, (which) has been critically important to helping sustain the business as a whole,” Bosset added.

Marketing Director Eric Kittelson of Fisher Industries. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)
Marketing Director Eric Kittelson of Fisher Industries. (Jackie Jahfetson / The Dickinson Press)

There’s more to manufacturing than just the “dirty jobs,” Kittelson said, adding that there’s employment opportunities with human resources, sales, marketing and engineering.

“So just like every other workforce, ‘Help Wanted’ is a definite need, especially in southwestern North Dakota and the manufacturing sector is just one of those areas that needs those employees as well. We're just trying to promote that you don't have to go very far to get a good paying job and start a career and start a lifestyle,” Kittelson said. “There's a lot of good opportunities right here in southwest North Dakota, and that's what we're pretty much doing.”

Kittelson added, “This is just a great event for our community… because when I was in high school, we didn't have these opportunities to go out and do these kinds of things and see all the different sectors and stuff. So (it’s important) to keep in mind that manufacturing is a huge workforce and there's jobs needed and within our companies, there's a lot of senior management positions that are going to be retiring. Some of our professionals that are in the workforce right now will be filling those voids, but there are going to be a lot of entry-level positions coming up here in the near future that we're going to need those younger students to gain that interest to join that workforce.”