Colorado manufacturers need skilled employees. I know that well. I led Research Electro-Optics (RE0), a company in Boulder that specializes in optics used in defense and aerospace systems, laser systems, semiconductor tools, medical systems, and life sciences instrumentation.

Paul Kelly photo

Paul Kelly

We were acquired recently by Excelitas Technologies, a global technology leader focused on customized photonic solutions for commercial and defense markets. Photonics is the physical science of creating and processing light for a multitude of high-technology applications. Our products complement one another, and the partnership enables greater investment in people, technology, and capabilities.

Where to find employees?

REO is already growing at 20 percent annually. And that growth underscores its continual need for creative, talented employees. The question is: Where do we find those employees?

The answer: Front Range Community College. Front Range certificate and associate degree programs offer diversity and opportunity and are always expanding. The college’s leadership team tracks the state’s changing economy and employment opportunities, and develops programs to meet those needs.

Center for Integrated Manufacturing

I am proud to be a part of Front Range’s latest, innovative project—a new Center for Integrated Manufacturing in Longmont. The center will include the college’s Precision Machining Program, the Optics Technology Program initiated in January, and two new programs, Automation and Engineering Technology and Electronics Engineering Technology.

The college has committed $6.5 million to create the center. The lease for the classroom and laboratory space has been signed, and we expect renovations to be complete by next June. I am chairing the fundraising committee. I have personally contributed to this terrific project and am contacting other Colorado business leaders asking them to donate and underwrite the facility, its programs, and equipment.

A path to success for young people

The center is important to me for many reasons. Certainly, I am selfishly interested in skilled employees. But, I am also very committed to our young people and their success. REO spends a great deal of time speaking at Colorado high schools emphasizing to students the importance of post-high school education and the many opportunities before them.

When that tattoo grows stale

When speaking with students, we describe how REO’s optics are used. We try to interest them in the company. Yes, we produce products used in building F35 fighter aircraft and Apache helicopters. But the smiles appear when I explain that we also sell optics used in lasers for cosmetic surgery and for removing tattoos that spell out the name of an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend!

My approach is about heart and hope—and economics. Young people with postsecondary degrees and certificates earn higher incomes. That is vital to the economic success of our state.

And it means Colorado jobs will go to Coloradans.

Center will create pipeline for skilled employees

I applaud Front Range for establishing this groundbreaking center. I applaud President Andy Dorsey for his leadership on this project and positioning the college as a national model.

The center will be an essential pipeline for skilled employees for the almost 6,000 manufacturers operating in Colorado that employ 5.5 percent of the state’s workforce and account for 93 percent of Colorado’s exports. It will prepare our young people for jobs that are both technologically interesting and financially rewarding…and, hopefully, their passion.

As we all know, education changes life trajectories.

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