To the Editor:

There’s a perception that manufacturing is a dying industry in western Massachusetts, but the reality is quite different. In fact, a fundamental challenge faced by manufacturing companies in the region is finding enough qualified employees who can apply math and science and critical thinking to do technical jobs that are the backbone of manufacturing operations today.

The challenge is increased because the industrial workforce is aging and there are not enough qualified younger workers to replace the older ones who will be retiring soon. Companies planning their long-term survival need new generations of skilled workers. My company, Meridian Industrial Group, is one of those companies.  

Meridian has deep roots in Holyoke, where it was established in 1890 as The J&W Jolly Co. We manufacture large parts used in aerospace, defense, commercial and medical applications for customers across the country and overseas as well. Our workers make this business possible, and from a practical standpoint, I know we need a pool of qualified candidates to perform skilled manufacturing jobs. There are existing regional efforts that help to supply the pool of workers to fill manufacturing jobs, but I have concluded that preparation must start sooner. Building the necessary skills – how to think clearly and focus attentively and apply concepts of math and science to solve problems – all of that skill building has to begin early in life. When I say early, I mean years before a child enters kindergarten. 

Companies like Meridian Industrial need people who are ready to learn, know how to learn, excel at learning and enjoy learning, now more than ever. That’s why I decided last year that I would make a concerted effort to support the success of Square One. It intrigued me when I learned that Square One, which provides early education and care for mostly poor, inner city children, was founded way back in 1883 specifically to provide child care for young mothers so they could go to work and support themselves. Then as now, the children see their parents going to their job each day so work and self-reliance are seen as the norm. 

Children at Square One spend their day learning in a quality early education and care environment that prepares them to enter school and be successful. Their lessons transfer directly to their experience in school and helps make children who went to preschool at Square One much more likely to graduate from high school, continue their education past that, and contribute productively to the community. Any business person can appreciate the long-term value of such an investment.

It also intrigued me that Square One was smart enough to figure out that you can’t just educate and inform a child, you have to educate and inform their family so the culture of personal responsibility for one’s own success is reinforced on a daily basis. It’s a “hand up” philosophy that makes sense on many levels.

So I decided to support Square One. Speaking practically, I understand that what I’m doing now to support the organization will impact my ability to be successful as a business owner over the long term. That’s why I call on my colleagues, customers and community to get on board with Square One and the whole concept of early education and care. Take time to educate yourself about the impact early education and care is having. Go visit a Square One preschool and meet the children. Stay for the morning and read them a story. Meet the teachers and the staff.

I don’t run a large foundation that can afford to give away millions of dollars. I run a manufacturing business that I want to be profitable for a long time. That’s why I am proud to be an ambassador who talks to others about the important work that Square One is doing.  Look into what Square One is doing because it matters.

Steve Grande, President
Meridian Industrial Group LLC