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Simmers Crane Gives YSU Graduates a Lift

SALEM, Ohio — Despite the 30-degree weather and impromptu flurries, some 28 engineers and technicians at Simmers Crane Design & Services gathered outside the company’s building for a photo with Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel – all YSU graduates, all wearing matching polo shirts with the colors of their alma mater.

Tressel stopped by the company, 1134 Salem Parkway, to meet the alumni and learn more about the specialty engineering company.

“It’s so much fun to run into the folks who are getting our great kids,” Tressel said. “And there’s so many companies like this that I run into and they say, ‘We’re really pleased with the preparation that your faculty has given to the students. The students we hire are good problem solvers, they’ll roll up their sleeves, they’ll get their hands dirty, they have a team feeling.’ “

YSU works closely with Simmers to ensure graduates find work locally rather than leaving the area, Tressel said. Partnerships with companies like Simmers allow YSU to play a role in shaping the economy of the future and ensuring the university is graduating skilled workers for regional jobs, he said.

“We think often about the steel industry and all that, that had 10,000 workers and so forth; that’s not the future,” Tressel said. “The future is companies with 300 employees, like Simmers, and those with 50 employees and 200 employees. That’s kind of what we’re built to serve and our faculty does an amazing job preparing them, and we get good feedback from the local manufacturers, the local companies.”

Founded in 1958 in Canfield by Charles Simmers, the company increased its presence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and opened its first satellite location in Buffalo, N.Y., said its president and CEO, Randy Stull.

“It allowed us to leverage the strengths that we had in Canfield – that knowledge, that engineering expertise – and get into more facilities across the eastern half of the United States,” Stull said.

Since then, the company has opened satellites in Cleveland, Erie, Pa., Rock Island and Chicago, Ill., Milwaukee and Roanoke, Texas, all of which serve the lower 48 states and occasionally Mexico. Simmers employs about 280 full and part time across all of its locations.

Simmers primarily serves the steel and aluminum industries, up to and including Fortune 500 companies, Stull said. It also works in the power generation industry, particularly with nuclear fossil plants in the eastern United States, as well as heavy manufacturing.

“General Electric has been one of our big customers over the years,” he said.

While satellites have helped the company expand, the company still needs a strong foundation at the current corporate location in Salem, he said.

“Our engineering group is really the cornerstone of that foundation,” he said. “We have the ability to look at anyone’s overhead crane and run the numbers on the structure, the mechanical components, and tell you whether it meets current code or not. And then we can tell you what you need to do to fix it.”

Building that cornerstone requires finding the right people, Stull said, and he credits the engineering program at YSU for its graduates. The company has hired YSU graduates every other year and is active in recruiting interns from the university, he said. Having access to a local talent pool like that is “incredibly valuable” to a small business, he said.

“It’s more than just putting a peg in a hole. You’ve got to find the right person with the right character makeup, skill sets, that drive that creativity and initiative to put them in those key roles,” he said. “When you look at what YSU is doing in their engineering program, they’re preparing young individuals to go out and succeed in industries such as ours. I’ve noticed over the last 20 years that the individuals coming out aren’t just engineering, crunch numbers students. They’re much more rounded.”

And Simmers puts graduates to work doing what they were trained to do, said Mark Kastner, vice president and general manager for the company. While other, larger companies “are going to put them in inventory management or something that they really didn’t do in their curriculums,” Simmers lets them use what they learned.

“And we expect them to rise to the occasion,” Kastner said. “It’s almost like we are asking people to run their own business. Really it’s worked out well, it’s been a great formula for our success.”

Chad Thorne, service manager at Simmers, has been one of the primary drivers in bringing YSU graduates to work at the company. Thorne, a YSU graduate, said getting a degree from a local university and finding a job in the same area is “an opportunity that a lot of people don’t receive, because they think that there’s not much in our area,” he said.

Company executives are proud of the history that Simmers has in the area and its partnership with YSU, he said, and Thorne is grateful to have the chance to go back to the university during job fairs and other events to recruit graduates, as well as teach part time.

Simmers started bringing on interns during the last few years, which was a challenge initially because company employees often travel for work, he said. The company works with their interns to ensure they are available for class time and still get their work done on their off days, he said. It was important to work with the students to make sure they’re getting the experience while still fulfilling their obligations to get their degree, even if the work isn’t what their degree is in, he said.

“People can come in and make a good living here,” Thorne said. “It can sometimes not stick to where they wanted to be with getting their degree. But we kind of push them forward to make sure that’s most important to them, to finish what they started.”

Company representatives sit on advisory boards as well, which gives them a chance to speak directly to YSU faculty about curriculum, he said. Some YSU faculty also work part time at Simmers, giving them first-hand experience with real-world crane issues that they can take back to their students.

“We try to incorporate a lot of that practical, real life experience into what they do,” he said.

As students graduate and look for jobs, partnerships with companies like Simmers gives them a reason to stay in the area, Tressel said. With a majority of YSU students from the five-county region, he said many are interested in staying in northeastern Ohio to stay close to family.

“So when you have an opportunity to come and get a great degree in a very important field, have a great place to go work, it’s what we need,” he said.

YSU is working to create more such opportunities for its graduates, Tressel said. Last week, he and other YSU representatives spent time at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a research and development laboratory sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. They learned how they could “become a spoke in the hub of the nation’s manufacturing,” help local companies “advance into the future of manufacturing” and bring more of the 50 to 300-employee companies to the area, he said.

“We call it manufacturing 4.0,” he said. “As you know, the additive manufacturing phase of our program, the 3D printing and so forth, is darn good. Probably the future is the hybrid, doing some subtractive, some additive. …We think that will help serve the local manufacturers, help them get ready for the inevitability of some of the future manufacturing.”

Pictured: YSU President Jim Tressel and Randy Stull, president and CEO of Simmers Crane Design & Services (left of the sign), stand with 28 of the some 70-plus Simmers employees in Salem who are YSU graduates.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.