CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Waterloo, got a glimpse of how technology has impacted the manufacturing industry during a tour of the University of Northern Iowa's Metal Casting Center on Tuesday.
Braley met with students, staff and faculty, who briefed him on applied research, testing and training there.
Last week, President Barack Obama signed into law the U.S. Manufacturing Enhancement Act, part of the House Democrats' Make it in America national manufacturing agenda.
The Make it in America platform includes legislation encouraging manufacturers to keep jobs in America to strengthen communities as the economy continues to recover, Braley said.
"We've been pushing ... to return our global manufacturing competitiveness to the way it used to be," Braley said. "Here in Iowa, we know we have the hardest workers in the world, and we know that we can make products of the highest quality. UNI is leading the charge to help develop manufacturing technology that is clean and efficient."
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According to Jerry Thiel, director of the metals center, UNI has the premier lab in the world for metal casting materials research. UNI programs explore economic alternatives to using "cheap, dirty oil," like replacing petroleum-based materials with bio-renewable products, Thiel said.
"Reducing the dependence on foreign oil is the way of the future," he said.
Students' lab experience translates into job opportunities, said Harvey Ulfers, who has worked at the John Deere Foundry for nearly 37 years. He came to UNI to earn an undergraduate degree in 1980 and returned to pursue a master's degree in 1988.
Many UNI students have worked part time at John Deere, some in supervisory capacities, he said. John Deere is planning a $90 million renovation of its foundry and is looking for people with such skills to manage the business in a few years, Ulfers added.
"They know how to do the things a metal casting company wants and demands for ready-to-start people," he said. "That's very important to us."
Within the metal casting program, an estimated 98 percent of students have found employment in Iowa, said Scott Giese, an associate professor in the industrial technology department. And they're typically among the highest-paid, averaging mid-$50,000 to low $60,000 salaries.
"When you hear how John Deere and other private companies are tapping into the benefits of a program like this, ... that's what gets me excited to go back and set public policy," Braley said.