Robert Lando, CEO of AgriNomix, stops during a tour of his factory to say, “There is an incredible story here to tell that requires no exaggeration.”
The Oberlin-based company provides automation solutions for the horticultural community; when you buy a flat of petunias or a hanging flower basket, there’s a good chance production of the plant — from planting the seed to covering it with soil — involved machines supplied and maintained by AgriNomix.
But the business is not the story Lando wants to tell on this tour of his growing company.
The perfect pairing
Since the program began, AgriNomix has hired nearly a dozen students from Lorain County Community College’s two-year automation engineering technology program, and it’s eager for more. If more students graduate from the program, the company — and others like it — would snap them up, says Lando.
“This amazing program speaks directly to the job market,” he says. “There is no question that the automation engineering technology program at LCCC is the best-kept secret in Northeast Ohio. It is a jewel.”
Students are trained on cutting-edge equipment and graduate extremely well qualified for many career paths.
As Lando continues talking, AgriNomix President Charlie Kirschner joins the conversation. Kirschner graduated from LCCC’s program 20 years ago and got his start as an electric and mechanical field technician at AgriNomix. He calls the program top-notch.
“The mix included gives you information in so many areas,” Kirschner says. “You can come into this company as a technician and grow into engineering.”
As they continue walking, Kirschner points to Kane Hogan, who is standing in his office with computers scattered on the floor.
While a student at Firelands High School, Hogan took classes through LCCC’s College Credit Plus program. After graduating in 2007, he enrolled at LCCC full time as a computer science student. He found the field crowded, so instead he followed his mother’s advice: pursue robotics.
Hogan says his student experience in LCCC’s program made all the difference when he entered the workplace.
“One day I’m designing electrical panels and the next day software,” says Hogan, who started his career as a field service technician at AgriNomix. Today, at 30, he works as a senior controls engineer. “I had plenty of hands-on opportunities and was able to diagnose and fix things using logic in a virtual environment.”
Hogan glances down at all the computers on the floor, smiles and adds, “I guess I’m still in computer science.”
From college campus to career pathways
Hogan’s hire and career advancement at AgriNomix is a story Kelly Zelesnik, dean of LCCC’s Engineering, Business and Information Technologies Division, takes pride in sharing.
“The program was built to lead directly to local jobs,” she says.
To help ensure it continues to train students on the latest technology, in October 2019, the college introduced an expanded Campana Center for Ideation and Invention and a digital manufacturing line, furthering its commitment to designing and implementing degree programs that fill needs in the local workforce.
“It is designed to be flexible for our students, and for companies to use in a completely collaborative way,” Zelesnik says.
Scott Zitek, assistant professor and program coordinator at LCCC, says the Campana Center allows students to gain real-world experience to prepare them for the job market.
“We train students to go out into industry and immediately start using the technology,” he says. “They are able to apply the software and help companies do things differently and better.”
Students like Sarah Park take classes two days a week and work three days. As Lando continues the tour, he points to Park, 19, on the manufacturing floor. She enrolled at LCCC after graduating from Wellington High School with the goal of becoming a field service engineer.
“LCCC is more than just lectures,” Park says. “We are wiring with actual wire to sensors and testing to see how the sensors interact with the PLC.”
Park will graduate in May with an associate degree in maintenance repair, and potentially a full-time job at AgriNomix.
An industry awaits
Kirschner continues the tour, nodding toward the robotic transplanters and the LCCC students and employees programming them, and talking about the beneficial mix an LCCC education provides.
“You’re not just sitting by yourself,” he says. “You’re working with co-workers, customers and employers, which gives people a good perspective coming into the workforce.”
The tour wraps up with Lando and Kirschner in the boardroom, discussing the opportunities available in manufacturing.
“Students coming out of LCCC’s program can typically qualify as a field service technician with a starting salary around $42,000 and opportunities for significant advancements in pay over a short period of time,” says Kirschner. “After a few years, some advancement paths yield up to six-figure incomes.”
Lando agrees. “There is an entire industry waiting for these graduates.”