Johnson plugs tech schools on manufacturing tour

Green Bay Gazette
Donovan Slack
October 3, 2014

WASHINGTON – Sen. Ron Johnson, the Oshkosh Republican known as something of a PowerPoint nerd, used the presentation tool Friday to explain his views about federal spending and debt to roughly 100 middle- and high-school students in Lomira, Wis.

Ron Johnson

“I didn’t see anybody nod off,” he joked in a phone interview afterward. “They actually seemed rather interested — or doing a good job of faking it.”

The event at Kondex Corp., which makes equipment for agricultural, construction and forestry industries, was part of a multi-city effort that has included stops in Madison, Oshkosh, and Milwaukee to kick off National Manufacturing Month.

Johnson’s core message to the students focused on the choices they will soon have to make about their future. He said he encouraged them to consider manufacturing as a career, and to consider a two-year technical school rather than a four-year college.

“If you want a four-year degree, that’s great, but there’s other things you can do after high school,” he said.

Johnson also said it should be perfectly acceptable for high-school graduates to go to work for a while, then attend college later.

“We have so many good-paying jobs that are left open that are not being filled in the state of Wisconsin partly due to the fact that we are telling our kids that unless you get a four-year degree, somehow you’re a second-class citizen,” he said. “We denigrate the trades, that is really wrong. We’ve got to change that attitude.”

Ron Johnson

The senator also shared with the students slides showing ballooning federal spending and debt and repeated his oft-cited mantra that spending growth must be curtailed in Washington.

“I do show them that your share of the federal debt is $55,000 dollars right now,” he said. “In 10 years, it will be $75,000. So what do you think about that? How’s them apples? So I told them, ‘You know, I don’t want to depress you too bad, but you ought to talk to your parents about that and ask them to stop doing it to you.'”

Also in the audience were dozens of Kondex employees and executives, and a representative from the Milwaukee-based Association of Equipment Manufacturers. Johnson toured the facility and met with Kondex President Jim Wessing to talk about industry needs in Washington. Tax reform, regulatory reform and investment in transportation infrastructure were among the topics discussed.

Johnson said working to streamline regulations will be one of his top priorities if he and fellow Republicans win majority control of the Senate in November.

Kondex issued a statement from Wessing thanking Johnson for the visit “and for the many kind words he expressed about our operations.”

“I was particularly impressed with the way he addressed the Lomira students and prompted them to think about their future career paths and the potential that manufacturing holds,” the statement said. “While most students are encouraged to pursue a four-year degree right after high school, the senator pointed out the need for skilled trade workers and encouraged them to consider a future with manufacturing companies like Kondex where there’s a clean, safe environment and career development is offered.”

Since its founding in 1974, when it supplied a single agricultural product, Kondex has grown into a multi-market international supplier with approximately 300 employees.

Ron Johnson

Johnson’s PowerPoint may have been a little dour, but he also had hopeful messages for students about finding happiness in life. (“I’m a dad, I lecture,” he said afterward.)

He said he told the students, “If you can find something that you enjoy doing, you’ll never ‘work’ another day in your life.”

None of the students asked questions after his presentation, but they all rushed up to take pictures with Johnson.

“That seems to be what they always want to do, is they always want to take a selfie,” Johnson said. “We all do the posed shots but they all want to do a selfie.”