Field research

Sutherlin company hosts local students exploring job options

Expanding Horizons camps organizers say they want to expose kids to potential career ideas – and, moreover, to jobs offered by local employers. It’s a “grow your own” workforce mentality that aims to boost the local economy.

That spirit was in evidence on the third day of the early August Discover the Engineer in You summer camp, when students got to tour Orenco Systems Inc. in Sutherlin.

Camp participants and their Oregon State University student instructors were welcomed by Orenco Marketing & Training Manager Angela Bounds-Antonio. She explained that Orenco was launched in 1981 to address failures in area wastewater systems.

“A lot of what we manufacture, what our engineers are working on, is about solving people’s problems,” she said. “And it started with doing research on sand filters and septic waste in Glide.”

Since then, the company has become an industry leader in designing and manufacturing affordable, “green” wastewater technologies for properties and communities that are not hooked up to city sewers or whose sewers are failing or at capacity.

Following Bounds-Antonio’s introduction, Orenco Vice President of Operations Jeff Ball escorted visitors through numerous work sites at the plant’s 26-acre facility. Ball prefaced the tour by telling students “we do a lot of cool stuff and we do it here because we love living in Douglas County.

“That’s why we try to make it appealing to people like you, who are interested in science and technology. It gives you an opportunity to live here and pursue the things you like.”

For nearly 90 minutes, Ball led students in and out of plant buildings, describing what workers were producing. Some positions require no more education than a high school diploma, he said, and almost all the required training would be given on the job.

Ball said although the company is a for-profit venture, he believes it’s not just all about making money.

“We’re doing good things for the planet, also,” he said.

Lacey Ferguson, program coordinator for the Umpqua Valley STEAM Hub, which helps fund and organize the Expanding Horizons summer camps across Douglas County, said the Orenco field trip was a great way to open students’ eyes to the variety of career opportunities close to home.

“I believe that this experience is getting us one step closer to bridging local youth with local industry to promote career education in Douglas County,” Ferguson said.

Ball agreed that employer-student connections can be useful to the community at large.

“We’re hiring a half-dozen to a dozen people a week, and we are finding that people don’t have any idea what we do,” he said. “We’ve decided to make an effort to let the community, especially potential employees and their friends and relatives, to let them know that we have an awesome place to work.”

He might have made some headway with 12-year-old student Anderson Harris of Roseburg. Anderson thanked Ball for the tour with the observation, “What I liked best were the metal shavings. And the cookies.”

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