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Cookeville’s newest state-of-the-art plant got looks from potential future employees.

Students in the industrial maintenance program at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, along with students from other schools, recently got a sneak peek at Ficosa.

Also on hand was Randy Boyd, head of Tennessee’s Economic and Community Development Department. Boyd stopped in Cookeville Wednesday to tour Ficosa and ATC Automation as part of events to celebrate Manufacturing Week.

“Roughly one in four Tennesseans who work in manufacturing are age 55 or older,” Boyd said. “That means a big portion of this workforce will be reaching retirement age in the next decade. Our task is to help Tennessee companies find the next crop of talent.”

Boyd said high school students need to be aware of companies in their own backyard and also know the skills they need to attain these jobs.

“Manufacturing Week will get students on to the factory floors of Tennessee companies, and serves as a great way to ensure our future workforce will consider careers in advanced manufacturing, engineering and other high-skilled jobs,” Boyd said.

Students who attended Wednesday’s tour heard from a Ficosa employee who started at the bottom and worked his way up.

“I never dreamed I’d be in manufacturing,” TCAT graduate Jacob Wyatt said.

Wyatt said he began work at Delbar (which was acquired by Ficosa in 2008) nine years ago and worked up the chain to assembly manager.

“I watched everything that went on,” he said. “I began in maintenance, worked in logistics and other areas before coming to assembly.”

Ficosa is a global supplier dedicated to research, development, production and sales of safety, communication and efficiency systems for the automotive industry. It announced the construction of the new plant early last year. Injection molding, assembly lines and a world class paint operation are all a part of the new plant, which currently has 600 employees. Two new production processes are also in this new facility: aluminum injection and the production of signal lights that are integrated into rear view mirrors, components that were previously outsourced in Mexico and Asia.

The Cookeville factory supplies clients such as Ford, Chrysler, General Motors, Volkswagen and Nissan with the capacity to produce 4.5 million units per year.

Boyd and others were able to see first-hand how the operations work.

“Engineering plays a big role in the paint operation,” Laurie Schroeder, plant manager, said.

That line is highly-technical, with robots programmed to paint the mirrors that are manufactured. Each piece goes through a five-step wash system. The robots are in air-tight rooms lined with water to keep dust particles down. Once a mirror is finished, it goes through another wash and is dried, with the paint particles flowing into the water below the room and then stored in an area behind the facility. That water is skimmed for paint particles (when dried it is no longer considered hazardous waste). Then the water is purified through an in-house reverse osmosis system before flowing back into the facility. The paint line is currently in the trial-run stage and is anticipated to be operational by the end of June 2017.

Eric Russell is one of the TCAT students who participated on the tour. The 49-year-old Cookeville resident is taking advantage of the Tennessee Reconnect program and is working toward his industrial maintenance certification.

“I’ve always thought about going back to school,” he said. “I’ve been a handyman, doing odd jobs here and there, but never put any money back. I figured since I have a few more years to work, why not go back to school?”

So he researched different programs and found the TCAT program to be the best for his interests. He applied for the Reconnect grant and began his studies this past May.

“I’ve learned quite a bit,” he said. “The new technology is great.”

Ficosa’s Cookeville plant will have a grand opening at the end of the month.