Devon Ingo Marketing Manager, Oliver Manufacturing

It’s no secret: Our rural communities are getting older. Last year, “The Atlantic” reported that between 2010 and 2014, rural areas lost an average of 33,000 people a year. Younger generations are leaving for higher-paying jobs in and near big cities. Part of that is due to the luxuries and opportunities cities offer young people, but part of that is because rural communities don’t do a good job showcasing the opportunities right in their own back yard.

As part of the Southeast Colorado Manufacturing Partnership, we are working to change that. Since 2015, we’ve hosted annual school tours. As part of the partnership, we are one of six companies that participate. To date, more than 850 seventh-grade students have come through our facilities. The program pulls in local and regional students from all over the Arkansas Valley.

It’s a great way to showcase that opportunities do exist in rural areas and to break the notion that you have to go to a big city for an excellent career. One of our goals is to show students that no matter their interest, there are opportunities in their hometown. If they are interested in marketing, there’s a place for them. If they are interested in engineering, there’s a career for them. If they are interested in accounting, we’ve got opportunities.

Just last month, we hosted students from six schools. It’s not only an opportunity for students to learn about manufacturing, but it’s also an opportunity for us to showcase our business — that we are an international equipment supplier.

They get to see our entire business, from the metal being cut to the finished product fully assembled. This also demonstrates that hands-on skills are still very much needed in today’s workforce. Welders are in high demand and it’s a trade, not just a job.

Furthermore, these tours are great for staff moral because our team members get a chance to share what they do, how long they’ve been with the company and how science or math is involved. Students are never too young to be exposed to what we do and how we do it. We strive to give them an amazing experience, so they will want to come back and work here after college or technical training.

It might take years for our efforts to pay off, but these actions are important to us as a business and for the livelihood of our community. I encourage you to pause and ask yourself: “Are there steps my business can or should be taking that would help put a stop America’s aging rural communities?” If so, why not act on it? All of agriculture would benefit.