Made in the Northwest: Production and Manufacturing Academy

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. – 18 local high school students are getting real world manufacturing experience in the three week long Production and Manufacturing Academy at East Valley High School, which is designed to spark an interest in the trades.

“We start at 8:30, we end at 3:30 and they are here working every single day,” said Wade Larson, who created the academy and works in human resources at Wagstaff.

Larson says the students go through the entire manufacturing process from start to finish. They create a product, design it, build it and even sell it.

“What they soon realize is there’s more to manufacturing than just making stuff. And so, when they come in, they realize this is all about business. It’s not just about making some things. You’ve got to make a profit at the end and I’m part of that.”

Colby Blegen, a senior at University High School, says it’s intense, but in a good way.

“I’m in fear everyday I come, because I’m scared I’m going to read a memo that says make double what you’ve made,” said Blegen. “But it always keeps me on my toes and it does give me a better outlook on the manufacturing world.”

Each of the four teams is making a different product. Karen Smyly’s team is making planter boxes.

“We call it the garden cube just for a cool name,” said Smyly, a junior at East Valley. ‘It’s just a planter box you can put your big plants in. It really locks in the aesthetics in your house and it can be used both indoors and outdoors.”

The other teams are making cutting boards, chess boards or bird houses.

Not only do the students get Career and Technical Education credit for completing the academy, they also get $1,500, which is made possible by Wagstaff and other local manufacturing companies that sponsor it. But mostly, it’s about the experience.

“I forget that I’m getting paid for this because it’s fun enough that I feel like it’s just a cool event,” said Blegen.

“It’s really cool and, you know, it’s super fun, too,” added Smyly. “It’s a really great experience.”

Larson says he hopes they can make the academy bigger and better in the future.

“It’s about the buzz that we create and the interest that we create among the high schoolers, among the kids and everywhere else, because they’re going to take this back and tell everybody else about the experience they had.”

And they’ll keep drilling home the importance of careers in the trades.