From the Executive Director's Desk

In conjunction with Labor Day, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM, has released the 2010 annual index, “Made in America? What the public thinks about manufacturing today.” The objective of the annual survey/report is focused on three areas:manufacturing importance and image; future outlook for manufacturing and the talent pool; and competitiveness environment and areas for improvement. The snapshot of the industry provides important messages to our policy makers. Over 1000 Americans across the country responded to the survey, their age distribution, education level, and survey protocols are provided in the downloadable document.

Despite the current economic conditions, Americans in overwhelming numbers continue to agree manufacturing is very important to our economic prosperity, and 76% believe it is also important to our standard of living. Additionally, manufacturing was ranked second only to the energy industry for its importance to a strong national economy. Although only 30% would encourage their children to choose a career in manufacturing, many more now believe that the industry offers safe and clean working environments and high-tech, higher paying jobs requiring higher education. Most also said they would like to see manufacturing in our country strengthen and grow, at the same time anticipate it will weaken in the near future.

Although they strongly believe in the capabilities of the American workforce at all levels including research and development and technology and innovation, they are not so sure that our governmental policies provide and/or support a competitive manufacturing environment. Top disadvantages perceived by the survey respondents include business policies, tax rates, government leadership, and trade policies. Hopefully, government officials at all levels will read this document and explore opportunities to better support manufacturing in our country.

Please enjoy our September FLATE Focus articles about Tallahassee’s new Advanced Manufacturing Center, the innovative STEM Institute learning communities in Hillsborough County public middle schools, and learn the secrets behind the blue envelope millions of Americans open every day printed and assembled right here in Tampa Bay’s Valpak Manufacturing Center. We are also starting a new Educator’s corner that will be included occasionally throughout the year. Most of all enjoy the hectic, creative energy of the first days of a new school year – it often fades too quickly.

Technology Behind Your “Blue Envelope of Savings"

What comes to mind when you think about high-tech mass production, automation, and robotics? Chances are coupons and printing presses may not cross your mind. Gone are the days when Johannes Gutenberg labored over rolls of paper and ink. Today robotics and automation have revolutionized printing and made mass production possible. The paper and ink are still around, but the mind behind the machines is technology.

Take for instance the Valpak coupons that come in your mail every month. Sure we’ve all used a coupon or two from our “Blue Envelope of Savings” to drive down grocery bills, eat at that upscale restaurant down the street, or attend a local gig, but have you ever thought about the technology behind these money savers?

Indeed, there is a world of robotics, automation and technology at play that makes a colossal enterprise of this magnitude operate seamlessly. Valpak is a direct marketing company that has redefined print manufacturing. The company which is currently owned by Cox Enterprises Inc. was established in 1968 in Clearwater, FL by Terry Loebel (pronounced as label). The Center which is now located in Saint Petersburg, FL represents the convergence of technical expertise from around the globe.

From a small garage operation, Valpak has evolved to a state-of-the-art high-tech manufacturing facility. The brain behind the brass is clearly automation technology. This next generation “computer-controlled factory of tomorrow” is housed within a 440,000 sq. ft facility that can fit 13 Boeing 747s. Construction of the new Valpak Manufacturing Center (VMC) in 2007 has allowed the company to cut back operating costs, and streamline manufacturing and automation processes from four days to four hours. The VMC is a showcase of print automation with high-performance plate transfer systems that move along the ceiling, print roll buffers, collation systems and high density storage systems. Referred as “the Lexus or the Cadillac of presses,” these machines move at 2000ft per minute, and can create 100,000 impressions or coupons in an hour.

Within this gigantic scale of operations, customers still occupy a central role. Marsha Strickhouser, public relations manager at the corporate office in St. Petersburg, FL says the goal is to reach out to consumers via mail, phone, computer, or online advertising. “Whatever be the channel we want to be the first to be there for our customers in saving money where they can.” The company currently operates 180 franchises in North America which includes the United States and Canada, and has 54,000 businesses across the country that advertises in the blue envelope each year.

Despite stiff market conditions, success seems seamless at Valpak. The company boasts of a high “open rate”, in that nine out of ten people that receive the Valpak envelope actually open it. Another component of Valpak’s ongoing success lies in its firm commitment to research, combined with a direct marketing strategy which allows businesses to automatically detect/track the origin of the coupon to Valpak’s Blue Envelope of Savings. For the past 42 years, Valpak has conducted various research using Claritas, Simmons, Nielson, Scarborough and some of the major research companies to identify its customer base. It puts a lot of time and effort behind the scenes to match the needs of customers with coupons that best serve their needs, behavior/patterns, and spending habits. The rewards are enormous. Strickhouser says “The money we invest upfront helps our franchises in the frontlines to reach out to customers, and in turn helps us get more advertisers who want to do business with us.”

Valpak not only sits at the forefront of latest cutting-edge automation technology, but is premier in integrating new technology through the use of mobile platforms, or dot com products. Want an ice cream sundae in the middle of the night? There’s an app for that! For the past 14 years the company has been offering mobile coupons that can easily be downloaded using smart phones. Within the last year, it has launched four apps for the Palm Prix, iPhone, BlackBerry and the Droid which has made it easier and faster for customers to find what they’re looking for. “We feel our 42 years of experience, combined with latest research-based tactics and the construction of the new VMC has enabled us to stay ahead of the competition and enabled us to try on new things” Strickhouser said.

Campers watch Valpak robots at work
Valpak stands tall in exercising corporate responsibility, and has garnered numerous awards over the years. In 2009, Valpak received three industry certifications, certifying its paper is from forests that use sustainable practices. Most recently, it won an award from the local Florida Power Company, as well as a philanthropic award last summer for community-based initiatives such as building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Other community-related programs include partnership with the United Way campaign and the Pinellas Education Foundation.

Valpak has also been one of FLATE’s strategic partners in facilitating the “Made in Florida” industry tours that have given nearly 300 middle and high school students as well as educators throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties an opportunity to witness its high-tech manufacturing operations. The tours have been an essential factor in showcasing “the integration of various skill-sets in a manufacturing facility, intricacies of manufacturing processes, and how everything is inter-connected.” The MIF tours have also served as a vehicle in underlining the importance of science, technology, mathematics, and engineering in securing high-wage, high-skill jobs. In January, 2010 the VMC also hosted FLATE’s National Visiting Committee meeting, and the National Association of Manufacturers Skills Certification System roundtable discussion.

For more information on Valpak, contact Marsha Strickhouser at For information on the “Made in Florida” industry tours contact Dr. Marilyn Barger or Dave Gula at 813.259.6577, or visit You can also read a full transcript of the interview with Marsha by following us on Facebook.

Watch this manufacturing process video from

SDHC’s STEM Institutes: Cultivating The Spirit of Innovation through STEM Education

We all know science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are drivers of our economy. They form the nexus for launching lucrative careers that belong not to a distant future, but are “here and now”.

In recent years STEM has gained considerable attention on the local and national level. Then too, STEM is not a “new” term. According to a study conducted by Enterprise Florida Inc., “more and more jobs will require basic understanding of scientific and mathematical principles, and/or problem-solving skills developed through STEM coursework.” As the economic rudder shifts towards a knowledge-based economy, the need for a dynamic and well-educated workforce equipped in STEM-related skills has assumed great prominence.

Rob Weinberg, district resource teacher for career and technical education curriculum and STEM initiatives at the School District of Hillsborough County in Florida observes “when students are detached from STEM, the idea of innovation inevitably diminishes.” He says the shift in focus can be attributed to a deficiency in the number of individuals actively engaged and/or pursuing STEM-based careers and educational pathways. This tip in balance has created a vacuum of sorts, and has dramatically increased the need to educate, and train the future workforce to be knowledgeable in all of these areas.

students from the robotics institute at McLane MS
The STEM Institutes at the School District of Hillsborough County is an initiative designed to cultivate a spirit of innovation by developing passion, and excitement, as well as preparation in STEM-related educational pathways. The Institutes were established in 2007, and follow the National Career Academy Coalition model with an overall goal to help students at the middle school level transition/articulate into high school Career Academies/programs. There are currently five middle schools operating under the common umbrella of the STEM Institutes. Each has a STEM theme, or unique of its own flavor. For example Buchanan has a Biotechnology focus, Greco has a Pre-Engineering academy, Madison with an Aerospace/Astronautics focus, McLane offers Robotics, and Young has Robotics and Engineering/Architecture academy.

So what is the hallmark, or the driving force behind the success of the STEM institutes? The answer lies in its state-of-the-art programs which are geared to foster minds-on, hands-on activities. Besides being the only school district in Florida to have STEM Institutes at the middle school level, one of the defining aspects of the institutes is the individual/one-on-one attention students receive from the time they enter the program to the time they enter high school. In terms of curriculum, Weinberg says the District follows program standards outlined by the state that have industry-relevant applications. “Each STEM institute flavors instructional lessons and material to their STEM theme, and each math and science course is required to teach district approved courses.” For example, in an architecture themed institute, the math concept of “area” can be geared to calculate the area of a family room rather than doing random number problems.

Over the course of 3 years, the Institutes have made quite an impact. Preliminary data suggests approximately 40% of students from Buchanan’s STEM institute will be pursuing an Engineering-related courses in high school. The preliminary survey also shows students from STEM Institutes generally equal, or surpass student test scores within their schools.

Factors that have spurred success on the teacher, and administrator side of the continuum include tremendous district support, low teacher turn-over rates, numerous professional development opportunities, as well as parent/community involvement. “This is a program that has impact on students because they want to be here, teachers want to teach the subject matter, and administrators are highly committed to the future success of the program.” Moreover, programs like the “Connect-thru-STEM” initiative have given teachers the opportunity to develop high student interest, integrated and authentic curriculum based on STEM teacher’s experiences with related local business and industry.

The STEM Institutes also enjoy a close partnership with FLATE. In October, 2010 several teachers from the institutues will visit FLATE and the Engineering Technology program at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon. FLATE will provide professional development about a variety of STEM careers, have demonstrations of some of the advanced technology equipment in the HCC labs, provide technical content information, as well as tips on how to weave STEM, social sciences, and language arts into fully integrated learning experiences for students and teachers alike.

The intent is clearly to inspire and excite students about STEM. Weinberg notes that in the last 50 years or so, drivers and innovators of our economy like the Thomas Edisons and Henry Fords or the Wright Brothers are not here. He sees the need to “excite and interest young people to step into those shoes once again.” Weinberg points to STEM as a fun way of earning a living, and fields which offers endless opportunities. He wants students to have an authentic experience, and says the best way to do this is to create a “hook” to keep them engaged, help develop team-work, problem-solving skills and enable critical thinking which could potentially lead to life-long learning.

Looking through the prism of the future, SDHC’s STEM institutes are poised to diversify/include various emerging technologies/fields. Some of these themes include health sciences, pre-nursing, pre-veterinary, agro-sciences, aquaponics, hydroponics or any high-interest and high-growth areas such as transportation, and alternate energy. Weinberg hopes exposure to these fields at the middle school level will expose and spark students’ interest in STEM-related fields in future. As he rightly concludes “Technology and Engineering is what brings math and science alive—providing students with these kinds of opportunities helps makes math and science alive.”

For more information on the STEM institutes at SDHC contact Rob Weinberg at 813.231.1894/, or visit You can also read the entire transcript of the Rob’s interview on our Facebook page at

Watch the WTSP 10 Connect News broadcast about the STEM Institutes

sTEm–at-Work Puzzle #11: Water filter performance test

Everybody has something to do with nano, FLATE’s puzzle team is no exception!

This time your water purity technician has shown you the graphic of the backflow test for the carbon nano-tube based technology water filtering system. When the water to be sold under your “purer than the driven snow” brand passes one way through the filter, the water is purified and then sent to the bottling facility. Eventually the filter is clogged and its performance is diminished. The tech runs the back flow test by disconnecting the forward flow, then pumping purified water through the filter in the opposite direction and monitoring the backward water flow rate. The plot shows the forward pressure vs. flow profile in blue, and the back flush pressure vs. flow profile in orange.

Should the filter canister be replaced? (Yes or No). Submit your answers at

The Advanced Manufacturing Training Center at Tallahassee Community College offers forward momentum for Florida’s capital region manufacturers

Manufacturers in Florida’s capital region just got some forward momentum, thanks to a regional initiative targeted to provide high-quality, customized skills training for current and incumbent workers engaged in manufacturing. The Advanced Manufacturing Training Center (AMTC) at Tallahassee Community College (TCC) made its official debut in August, 2010, and represents a cohesive partnership between government, TCC, and several industry partners located in the state’s northwest corridor.

Bruce Batton, program manager for AMTC, says the basis for establishing an advanced manufacturing training center, in a region where the pulse is predominantly politics or football, stems from the region’s robust manufacturing sector. Contrary to preconceived notions, Batton says Florida’s capital region offers potential for substantial growth. This potential combined with a growing need for a trained/skilled workforce prepared to work in high-tech manufacturing environments has been the foundation for establishing the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center. The Center is replete with training labs, classrooms and conference space, as well as a process development area for local companies and entrepreneurs, and was funded through a $1.8 million grant from the Department of Defense (DOD) and U.S. Army Research Office.

AMTC has several overarching goals/missions. One of its primary goals is to train and provide job-specific skills-based training to current and incumbent workers. The second is to provide a trained workforce for the manufacturing and industrial businesses located in Wakulla, Gadsden and Leon counties. The third goal is to attract new businesses to the area. “Our focus is to be adaptive to industry training needs, help people and the economy recover, and make the industry grow” Batton said.

Inauguration of the Center/ribbon cutting
with a welding torch
In terms of training, the Center focuses on three areas. The first is training in different processes with reference to composite materials made possible through the CEAM (Center of Excellence for Advanced Materials) grant from Florida State University. The second is advanced manufacturing which comprises training in CNC (computer numerical controlled) machines like industrial lathes, industrial mills, CNC simulators etc. The third area is the certified production technician training which prepares students to take the national MSSC (Manufacturing Skill Standards Council) Certified Production Technician (CPT) test that allows students to earn 15 credits towards the 2-year statewide engineering technology degree program developed by FLATE. The unique aspect of the curriculum framework is that it can be broken down into modules/individualized packages that tailor to specific training requirements based on the needs of a particular company/industry.

The Center’s target audience consists of traditional age students as well as current/incumbent workers. Given a predominantly lean manufacturing environment the Center is offering several courses during the Fall 2010 semester that are flexible, based on current industry needs, and geared to train/help current and incumbent workers get a job. These include six sessions of fundamentals in composite materials, day and evening courses in CNC machine lathe operation, and courses that prepare students to take any or all five components (quality, safety, maintenance awareness, production & processes, and employability skills) of the MSSC CPT certification. AMTC also offers courses in machine programming which includes master CAM operation, programmable logic controllers, blue print readings, using measurement gauges and all things associated with machine operation. All courses at the moment are noncredit courses, but AMTC is working with the college towards accredited certificate programs.

Generating interest in manufacturing and capturing interest in emerging technologies at an early stage is highly important. AMTC offers several summer camps for middle and high school students who are considering educational pathways in engineering technology related fields, or are looking for additional training for employment. AMTC has also begun discussions with local companies to start offering internship opportunities to current students/ones graduating from the program, and offers several CEAM and DOD based scholarships to students taking composite materials, or advanced manufacturing courses.

The courses and curriculum extend beyond the scope of a particular industry or profession. Batton describes them as a vehicle in providing industry-relevant training in a relatively short period, and giving students marketable skills to earn decent income. Its strength also lies in “offering a range of skills that are transferable across various industries.” For more information on the Center and current courses, contact Bruce Batton at, or visit For information on the MSSC Production Technician Certification for the statewide engineering technology degree, contact Dr. Marilyn Barger at, or visit

Manufacturing Essentials Course at HCC, Brandon!

Join the High-Wage, High-Growth Advanced Manufacturing World. Get Enrolled and Get On Board, NOW!

Who: Hillsborough Community College’s Technology Based Learning Initiative, the Employ Florida Banner Center for Manufacturing, and Polk State Corporate College

What: An 80 hour course that will teach you the advanced manufacturing basics that employers are looking for in today’s workforce.

How Much: Thanks to a grant from the US Department of Labor, tuition — normally $1,300— is only $375 (or less; contact us for details).

What’s the benefit: Get certified! Pass the four exams, and you’ll receive your nationallyrecognized Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC) Certified Production Technician (CPT) certificate that can apply towards 15 credit hours towards an Engineering Technology AS degree.

Topics Covered
• Workplace Essentials:Communication Skills, Team Building, and Stress Management
• Safety: Personal Protection Equipment, Lock Out/Tag Out, and Ergonomics, … get your OSHA 10 Card for completing this section
• Production and Processes: Lean and Six Sigma, Supply Chain, and Business Basics
• Maintenance Awareness: Machine Basics, Blueprint Reading, and Troubleshooting and Root Cause Analysis
• Quality Awareness: Introduction to Quality Management, the Production Process, and Quality Improvement Systems.

Next class session: 5:30—9:30, Tuesdays & Thursdays, Sept. 21— Dec. 9, 2010, at HCC’s Brandon Campus, room BSSB 201.

For more details and to reserve your seat visit us on Facebook, or call the Technology Based LearningInitiative at Hillsborough Community College 813-253-7000 ext. 5518, or email Glenn Goonis at
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Programmed for success….preparing students for robotics and high-tech careers!

FLATE is hosting “Programmed for Success…preparing students for robotics and high-tech careers” for a second time! The event will be held at Hillsborough Community College in Brandon on October 4, from 6 -7p.m., and involve parents of campers who attended the 2010 Robotics camps.

The program will highlight local STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) -based resources as well as availability of local school programs; career and educational opportunities for students pursuing STEM pathway; an update on local robotics events, tour of FLATE’s manufacturing lab at HCC-Brandon, and an overview of the engineering technology degree formulated by FLATE which is currently being offered in community colleges across the state. If you have any questions, please call or email FLATE’s Outreach Manager, David Gula at 813.259.6581/, or visit