By Jon Bishop
DEVENS -- When many people think about manufacturing, they imagine a Dickensian nightmare: belching smokestacks, haggard workers holding lunch pails, dirty environments. And so they stay away and encourage others to do the same.
But they'd be wrong.
Which is why Devens joined the rest of the country in celebrating Manufacturing Day, a day that began in 2012 and is devoted to defeating misconceptions about the industry, on Friday. It celebrated a local trade show at the Hilton Garden Inn, located at 59 Andrews Parkway.
According to Kelsey Abbruzzese, communications director at MassDevelopment, the day allows students to find out "what it's really like out there." This is the first time Devens has held such an event, she said.
"Devens has a terrific manufacturing community," she said. "They really responded."
"This is a good day," said MassDevelopment CEO Marty Jones, adding that there is "a lot happening."
Manufacturing is an "important part of the economy," both in Devens and in the rest of the state, she said in remarks to the audience.
"Manufacturing is one of the largest sectors of the Massachusetts economy," she said. It offers "great, good-paying, challenging careers."
State Rep. Jen Benson, who also spoke, said it's important to show people what modern manufacturing is about.
"Technology is an incredibly important part of the manufacturing process," she said.
Because so many manufacturing professionals will be retiring, Jones, said, more than 100,000 jobs will become available over the next 10 years, and so they need to get people interested.
MassDevelopment manages a campaign called "AMP it up!," which does just that. She revealed three new initiatives: an interactive map on the website; a third round of AMP it up! grants, which are up to $10,000 each; and the AMP it up! challenge, which will encourages students to research manufacturing and make a video about it. The top prize: $5,000. MassDevelopment will also give $2,500 to 10 people: a high-school and middle-school student from the state's five regions.
"You'll get a lot of ideas today," Jones said, referring to the challenge. "There's a lot happening in manufacturing here in Massachusetts."
Asked about various misconceptions about manufacturing, Jones said, "(When) people think of manufacturing, they think of a mill." She added that many have read about plant closings, and it created the impression that there is no opportunity.
Things are different now, though.
"We're seeing growth in companies," she said. And, referring to the jobs that will soon open due to retirements, she added, "We've got to have trained workers ready to take those jobs."
Businesses that attended the event included Vitasoy, Eglomisé Designs, MassMEP and Response Microwave. Peter Alfano, Response Microwave's vice president of business development, said he showed students the tools he uses and the products the company creates. That way, they could see "start-to-finish manufacturing."
Students at the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School, at 49 Antietam St., enjoyed the day. Their teacher, Lorin Hill, said their trip was part of a class called engineering, design and making, and they took full advantage of their time at the show.
"They talked to a lot of different people," she said.
Julianna Walsh, a ninth-grader, said the show had "cool jobs," and Lily Lukaszevicz, a 10th-grader, said it had "interesting businesses."
Conor Claflin, an 11th-grader, said, "We are kind of exploring our options, seeing what's local," adding that he'd "seen some interesting things."
Jillian Guthrie, a 10th-grader, agreed.
"It was really interesting," she said. "It was one of those things that you don't often think about."