Manufacturing

Seth Davis teaching
Stephanie Daniel / KUNC

Williams Jones sticks a magnet to a mix tank pump motor, then bends down and points a strobe light at the machine. He's collecting data to make sure the machine is working properly.

Jones is a PdM lubrication technician and second-class mechanic at the Owens Corning roofing plant in Denver. His job is to monitor the equipment, do preventative maintenance and fix machine parts.

Jones really likes his job.

In Rural Trump Country, Trade Policy Divides

Mar 21, 2017
Grant Gerlock / Harvest Public Media

Rural voters overwhelmingly chose President Donald Trump in the presidential election. But when it comes to the central campaign promise to get tough on trade, rural voters are not necessarily in sync with the administration.

Dawson County, Nebraska, could easily be called Trump country. As in most of rural America, Donald Trump won a big majority there – 70 percent of the vote. But it’s also a good place to look at one issue where rural residents have different perspectives: trade.

Wyoming Wants Wind Energy Factory Jobs. Colorado Has Them

Jul 26, 2016
Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Wyoming has lost hundreds of coal mining jobs in 2016. In contrast to coal, the renewables industry is growing nationwide. Generation capacity is projected to jump more than 50 percent by 2040, even in the absence of new environmental regulations. With that growth, there's a need for more components like blades and towers to build wind farms.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead's long-term energy strategy for the state includes plans to attract this kind of manufacturing. You only have to look to the state's neighbor to the south, Colorado, to find those kind of production jobs.

F Delventhal / Creative Commons/Flickr

Colorado capped off 2015 with solid job gains and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation. The state added 10,700 jobs in December, finishing the year with a historically low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent.

"The last time we had an unemployment rate lower than that was in May of 2001, when it was 3.3 percent," said Alexandra Hall, Chief Economist for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

CDLE

Colorado's economy is continuing its trend of slow but stable growth. Employers added 2,000 jobs in September, and Colorado's unemployment rate edged down 0.2 of a percentage point to 4.0 percent.

"We're continuing to see what I would call 'flat' conditions -- we've been in this 4 to 4.3 percent range all year long, which makes it feel like there isn't a lot going on," said Alexandra Hall, chief economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Sorry Robots, Meatpacking Is Still A Human Job — For Now

Aug 24, 2015
Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants throughout the country employ a lot of people. About a quarter of a million workers in the U.S. stun, kill and eviscerate the animals we eat. Most of those jobs are physically demanding and require few skills.

So why haven’t we started using more robots to cut up our beef?

The answer to the lack of meat processing robots gives insight into the limits of the technology and the economics of what it takes to put meat on American tables. Because meat processing makes up a huge portion of Great Plains communities’ rural economies, what happens inside meat processing plants affects not only the companies involved, but the very culture of rural America.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn / KUNC

Safety glasses securely in place, Clint Bickmore is hoisting a large metal plug into the air. His business partner, Nathan Saam helpfully points out that "you might want to step back a little bit." Beneath the affectionately named "spike of doom" sits a primitive-looking G.I. Joe-style helmet, dull black in color.

"So we accelerate this spike to almost 15 miles an hour and we drop it on top of the shell to see if we get penetration in the helmet," Saam said.

The spike plunges down, and with a clunk, hits the top of the shell. Three large cracks spiral out of the plastic, but it's not broken. In fact, it's barely dented. If it was like most helmets, it would have shattered or at least suffered a big indentation with a small fracture pattern, said Saam.

This destruction has a point. Saam and Bickmore are trying to build a better bike helmet.

Nathan Heffel / KUNC

It's very easy for open source users around the world to collaboratively share data and files to modify software. Everyday examples include products like Mozilla Firefox and Chromium which allow users to modify, study, deconstruct and even distribute the programs in a collaborative way with no worry of patent or warranty infringement.

Jeff Moe, founder and CEO of Aleph Objects, a 3D printer company, wants to do the same with hardware.

American Gypsum

As you drive through Eagle County, it's no surprise that the area is making a living on the hills that bookend the Interstate. There's plenty of world class skiing to be had in Vail or Beaver Creek. Continue on down the road though, and you'll find another part of the valley making a different living off those hills: Gypsum, Colorado.

Wooden carousels with carved and painted animals seem like a relic of the past. But Carousel Works in Mansfield, Ohio, is still making them to order.

"Our biggest trade secret is we've got this big barrel of elbow grease. You've gotta come in here and work every day," says co-owner Art Ritchie.

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