There’s a new business in Seymour looking to provide quality-made products and services for a variety of markets and customers.

Owl Manufacturing has a hardworking and dedicated staff of 15 employees. But instead of a paycheck, they are working to earn high school and college credits and gain knowledge, skills and experience needed for a successful future career in manufacturing.

In just one semester, the Seymour High School students have started the business from scratch. That includes researching and purchasing needed equipment, assigning job titles and tasks to workers, training on how to use the equipment, identifying and securing customers and finally, producing and delivering the finished products.

Sophomore Dylan Rigdon said being a part of Owl Manufacturing is better preparing him for a career than taking a regular manufacturing class or other traditional classes.

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“I think it’s given us good experiences for later in life when we go get a job,” he said. “It’s teaching us a lot of stuff, how to get stuff done.”

Their biggest order so far has been for 122 Christmas ornaments and the same number of vinyl Seymour decals. That order came from Assistant Principal Catherine DuBois as gifts for teachers and staff.

The students used computer software to design four ornaments for teachers to choose from, including snowflakes and angels. They then cut the ornaments out of metal using their plasma cutter and grinding and sandblasting equipment and finished them with a clear coat before packaging them. They also designed, print and cut the vinyl decals.

With a turnaround of just 10 days, it was a real-life experience in the importance of meeting deadlines and learning time management.

The students also are constructing Creform white display boards for Aisin. It was an order that allowed them to make contacts at Aisin and develop professional invoices for taking and fulfilling orders.

Another job has involved designing, printing, cutting and selling custom vinyl Seymour decals to students, teachers and others in the community.

Employees of Owl Manufacturing range in age from sophomores to seniors and in its first year are all male. Adviser Bob Sexton hopes to see girls take interest in the business as it grows.

Although he is a teacher, Sexton does not teach Owl Manufacturing as a class. It operates as a real company, and he, along with teachers Jeremy Wischmeier, Ryan Money and Curt Schleibaum mentor the group, providing supervision and guidance.

“The key is this is a company, not a class,” Sexton said. “There is no textbook.”

Students work every day from 2 to 3:30 p.m. and put in extra time before or after school and during the school’s Power Hour lunch period. Operations are spread out throughout several classrooms to utilize welding equipment, Amatrol robotics, computer-aided design software, specialized printers and other available tools.

Junior Marshall Claycamp said he enjoys having the opportunity to do hands-on work to make something instead of just studying for a test.

Claycamp is a part of the metal working and CNC plasma cutting team. He said he will be able to use what he is learning because he plans to pursue a career in advanced manufacturing or a related field.

“It’s more experience for what you want to do in the real world,” he said.

As in any company or workplace, the students have had challenges to overcome and problems to work out, Sexton said.

“It’s had its ups and downs, but about six weeks ago, I came in and they were telling me what we’re doing,” he said. “I realized we’re at a company level because they are directing what’s happening.”

No day is the same at Owl Manufacturing.

“It’s just really busy. You’ve got to get the work done,” said Rigdon, who works as the business’ office manager.

When there isn’t an order to fill, students research and develop new product and client ideas, train on equipment and meet with local industry leaders to learn more about available jobs in the community.

Funding for Owl Manufacturing is coming from an $85,000 Indiana Department of Workforce Development Skill UP Indiana! grant and from Seymour Community School Corp. funds. To continue the program, the goal is to use the money earned from production and sale of products.

Currently, state law prohibits students from getting paid for the work they are doing in Owl Manufacturing, but Sexton said he hopes that changes one day.

“It would be nice to see something directed back to the students, maybe in the form of a scholarship,” Sexton said.

An advisory committee made up of local industry leaders from Cummins, Aisin, Excel, the Jackson County Education Coalition and Jackson County Industrial Development Corp. have spent the past year putting the program together. That committee continues to meet with Sexton and the students.

The students document their work in a weekly newsletter to keep the advisory committee up to date on their progress.

When Owl Manufacturing ramps back up after winter break, students hope to have plenty of work to keep the business operating. Any company, business or individual interested in discussing a product idea can contact Sexton at sextonr@scsc.k12.in.us.

“We’re still going to be doing the Creform jobs for Aisin next semester, hopefully,” Rigdon said. “And we have some opportunities to make some benches for the tennis team.”

They also plan to explore more options for custom plasma cut products and 3-D printing and are working on an official company website.

Although it’s a lot of work, Rigdon said he wasn’t surprised, and that’s why he signed up.

“It’s about what I expected,” he said.

And when the products are made and the order has been filled and delivered, there is a sense of satisfaction.

“And relief,” Rigdon added.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.