Lake cleanup, engineering needs, ag programs highlight Lake Campus Regional Summit

The restoration of Grand Lake St. Marys, the engineering needs of local companies and the importance of agricultural education were front-burner issues at the first Wright State Lake Campus Regional Summit.

University officials joined dozens of local government executives and business leaders March 25 on the Lake Campus in an effort to brainstorm ideas designed to drive prosperity and improve the quality of life in the region.

“The most important part of today is to make sure we hear you,” Wright State President David R. Hopkins told the gathering. “We’re in very challenging times, so there is no better time to come together than today to really look at the future and decide how we’re going to tackle it together.”

Lew Manci, product development director for Crown Equipment Corp., which manufactures electric lift trucks, said his company needs undergraduate engineers with a broader set of skills based on a solid foundation of fundamental engineering.

Manci said the engineers need to have greater knowledge of computer software systems, be proficient in computer modeling, have more hands-on experience, be trained to work in teams and have better communication skills.

“We continue to see undergraduate students who can’t express themselves adequately,” Manci said.

Crown Equipment, based in nearby New Bremen, employs 8,000 workers worldwide, has $1.8 billion in annual sales and currently employs 150 engineers in the region that includes 27 Wright State graduates.

Tom Knapke, facilitator for the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission, outlined efforts to improve the water quality of nearby Grand Lake St. Marys. The 13,000-acre lake has been the victim of thick algae blooms.

Jared Ebbing, economic development director for Mercer County, said there are plans to chemically treat the lake, dredge the bottom to remove the nutrient-filled sediment, remove rough bottom-feeding fish that stir up the nutrients, and to aerate and circulate the water. In addition, money has been raised to create nutrient-filtering wetlands and to install wetland plants that will float in the lake.

“Governor Kasich has asked that we make this a priority, and we are committed to solving this problem,” Ohio Agriculture Director Jim Zehringer told the group.

Greg Homan, Ph.D., assistant professor of organizational leadership, detailed the Lake Campus’ agricultural program. He said it is tailored for students who want to do anything from getting into fertilizer sales to going back to work on the family dairy farm.

Zehringer said that to continue to reap the benefits of Ohio’s farm industry, the state needs to keep people involved in agriculture, a view shared by Kasich.

“He’s made it very clear he wants to support the agriculture industry leading us out of this recession,” Zehringer said.

Kip Wright gave the audience a rundown on the Grand Lake Law Enforcement Academy, of which he is academy commander.

Wright said budget cuts in local governments have resulted in the increased requests for training at the academy. The academy serves six area counties, is generally less expensive than other operations and offers programs tailored to public safety issues in the area, he said.

The academy, which involves about 30 law enforcement officers and 10 corrections officers, has also hosted seminars to educate the public on such things as identity theft and drug abuse.

Following the presentations, the audience broke down into small groups to share ideas and suggestions, which were later presented to the entire audience.

“We have heard a lot of great ideas,” said Bonnie Mathies, interim dean of the Lake Campus. “We have listened. We will continue to listen.”

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