San Bernardino County is attracting companies that want to take advantage of R&D infrastructure, says Michael Gallo, president of Kelly Space & Technology Inc., in a recent Q&A with GlobeSt.com. Gallo, who works for the privately-held aerospace and defense technology development company, with an advanced environmental testing services capability based at the San Bernardino International Airport, describes the County as an attractive place for aerospace research and development.
GlobeSt.com: What is Kelly Space & Technology’s focus in the County?
Gallo: KST’s aerospace research and development capability gives the County a unique core competency in this region. It attracts companies involved in high tech development that require access to the specialized engineering and product development testing services we offer. The ARDC has attracted entrepreneurial businesses to participate in aeronautical and space operations, research and development, as well as new commercial technologies. KST is leading several key projects with significant regional economic impact ranging from rocket engine development and shock-free aircraft technology to explosive detectors, ballistic protection and laser de-coating systems.
What makes the County a strong choice for technology?
Gallo:The greatest advantage is proximity to a former Air Force base and its existing infrastructure. There are specialized facilities here that you can’t replicate, such as one of the world’s only indoor rocket engine test facilities. We kept the Air Force bases’ prime assets that were ideally suited to R&D and are now using them for high-tech rocket engine development, product research and testing.
Another advantage is that when Norton was in operation we had seven major USAF Commands located here, including a full complement of high-level management, engineers and technicians. They didn’t go away when the base closed; instead, they found jobs throughout the region and with us. You can’t build that physical and intellectual infrastructure without significant investment. An entrepreneurial business like ours can apply that infrastructure and workforce competency built over many decades to today’s commercial and military applications.
For example, KST is developing a Portable Burn Debridement Laser (PBDL) system that will showcase the capabilities of KST’s laser treatment technology. The portable burn wound debridement system will share core concepts and technologies while being tailored for medical use by medical professionals. The future is all about development and deployment of innovative technologies. Our laser system will revolutionize wound care. This will emerge from San Bernardino and roll out to the rest of the nation. It’s a potential multi-billion dollar a year business. What’s exciting is that these new innovations can be spawned from past technology investments and the significant infrastructure that we’ve built over time. It provides the reason to continue to invest here and build the workforce to support deployment of these innovations from our own backyard.
The County is now attracting related companies that want to take advantage of our R&D infrastructure or incubate around our capabilities and leverage the services and workforce that exist to support their business.
Why is workforce education so important to your work?
Gallo:We have invested to build a technology cluster and it is critical that we complete the whole infrastructure to support it. For the past decade, starting when I was Chair of the San Bernardino County Workforce Investment Board in 2000, we’ve examined our County’s assets in order to better understand our core competencies as a region and where we want to be when we grow up. We then focused our training and workforce development activities on existing industry sectors already here and using the infrastructure that was already in place. It’s an overall core competency development reinforcement strategy. We target dollars not to train individuals for just any jobs. Instead, we focus resources on building up our economy here and enhancing our core competency. You can’t just build facilities or even a company if you don’t have a continuous pipeline to a skilled and trained workforce to employ within this infrastructure. We still have a huge skills gap in our region. There are many more jobs for skilled workers in these arenas, especially high tech, than the people currently trained to fill them.
Describe your solution for this workforce need:
Gallo:We’ve restructured the way training is done, coupling workforce investment with economic development and education. For example, Technical Employment Training, Inc., a 501(c)3 non-profit business and education cooperative, was formed by KST in partnership with the San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools to provide advanced manufacturing trades education and hands-on precision machinist skills training to prepare students for National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) credentials and a job.
It’s an intensive, accelerated series of courses where students work on real projects everyday gaining on-the-job experience in an operational machine shop environment while earning nationally-accredited certification in Machine Technology. Students go from no skills to obtaining national industry-recognized credentials then to jobs in advanced manufacturing. They’re working on real projects for local manufacturers, such as Boeing and California Steel, as an essential part of their training and direct linkage to the job market.
We are building a great business base of credentialed technicians to support our emerging technology clusters. All of these certifications are recognized by industry so if you obtain them, you have demonstrated proficiency in the field. The goal is to move the workforce from unemployed and low-skilled to a career. We also have integrated an intensive job placement component within the training. There are literally hundreds of jobs in this County that go unfilled primarily due to the lack of available skilled workers. We currently have over an 80 percent job placement rate for this program.
How would you describe the state of entrepreneurship?
Gallo:Unfortunately, entrepreneurship is accidental at best. Although we don’t currently stimulate the development of entrepreneurs in our public school system, our country has started to embrace improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education at all levels and integrating it into the entire curriculum – not just for college-bound youth, but for everyone.
We must reinvest in education to inspire young people and engage them in hands-on learning environments so that they’re motivated from the earliest age and can see the relevance of learning in their lives. It’s essential that we spark a student’s interest and engage them in the exciting aspects of what math and scientific principles represent on the white board. We must engage them in things that allow them to think beyond the curriculum standards – to bring the subject matter alive. Then they aren’t learning boring trigonometry standards, instead they’re firing rockets illustrating the relevancy of these standards. This stimulates an entrepreneurial mindset and creates an environment that excites students about learning.
How are you making that happen in the County?
Gallo:That’s where the Alliance for Education comes in. The Alliance represents an unprecedented, evolving commitment of influential leaders in the County who are producing an educated and skilled community that provides a qualified workforce for the continued economic well being and improved quality of life for all residents.
It encourages hands-on learning that relates the curriculum to tangible areas of interest to students that can ultimately be deployed into an economic development/workforce training framework. Our current goal is to make these education programs more scalable, but its challenging. The good news is that the data already shows how much better these students are performing with STEM-based, hands-on learning.
We’re actively rolling out pilot programs into more school districts changing the way we teach in our County classrooms. When students learn by doing instead of simply being lectured in a classroom, we stimulate an entrepreneurial mindset. Then we can show students situations where they are the ones creating their own employment options. It’s a systemic approach to integrating an entrepreneurial way of thinking in the students’ minds.
How has the County’s leadership been involved?
Gallo:Early on, the County of San Bernardino Board of Supervisors recognized that it can be a catalyst through strategic investment in initiatives, such as bringing STEM education programs to scale in our schools. They’ve also brought business into the process. They’ve wiped away the typical barriers put in place by government entities to become problem solvers. Now we’re working together to create a better product that isn’t simply represented by a diploma, but rather a qualified student with the necessary skills that can be gainfully employed or to successfully pursue higher education.
How is business involved?
Gallo:The exciting thing is that these efforts involve more than 1,500 other businesses in high-growth County industries including healthcare, manufacturing, construction, green initiatives, logistics and transportation. California Steel is a great example. They’re building a technical workforce from welders to electricians and even started their own training and certification programs. They’ve also linked with our K-12 and community college systems. Each one of our industry clusters have multiple partners reaching out in similar ways to bring about a wholesale change in the system. Ultimately, our combined efforts will produce a more skilled worker and create economic opportunities for our entire region.