Editor’s Note: “The Economic Development Side” originally appears in the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce’s weekly member e-newsletter. It is written by Rhonda Dishner, the Economic Development Alliance’s executive assistant.

A group of Industrial Technology Management & Applied Engineering majors at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff successfully completed a Basic Hydraulic Cylinder Repair course, as part of their “Fluid Power” course, with hands-on training and dual testing Saturday, April 28. The class of 15 UAPB sophomores and juniors included four young women.

The new hydraulics repair course, a first for college students here, was developed by Larry Smith, president of Custom Hydraulics & Machinery Inc., in Pine Bluff. It had been a “dream in the making” for several years, according to his wife, Jeri, who is corporate secretary for the company.

Citing the critical need for reinforcing skills training, Larry Smith says he also recognizes the importance of passing on to a new generation his particular knowledge and four decades of experience — information about a process that literally “can keep manufacturing industries going.”

Fluid power is used in many industrial applications and manufacturing processes. Fluid power is converted to mechanical force by use of hydraulic cylinders and actuators, according to Smith. Equipment breakdowns can be even more costly for industries if no experienced hydraulic repair technician is readily available.

The course became a reality for the 2018 spring semester in partnership with the Industrial Technology Management & Applied Engineering Department at UAPB, which offered facilities on campus for the 15-hour night class. Larry Smith was the chief instructor.

UAPB staff instrumental in getting the course piloted were Charles Colen, chairman of the Industrial Technology Management & Applied Engineering Department; and O.C. Duffy, Jr., an industrial technology instructor and professional engineer.

As part of the Saturday final exam, class members first met in the shop area at Custom Hydraulics, located in Jefferson Industrial Park, where they each were tasked with disassembling and reassembling a hydraulic cylinder that was then wet- and air-tested for precision. Everyone passed on the first attempt — a matter of pride for both Larry and Jeri Smith.

The second part of the exam was a written “Final Training Participant Assessment” taken by the students after a pizza lunch held at the White Hall Community Center. Again, everyone received a passing grade.

Certificates were presented to Shadelle Boddy, Isaiah Bolden, Keshun Cross, Dashaun Hammond, D’Myia Herd, Terrae Jenkins, Daijia Marshall, Osaye Maynie, Eddie Miles, Edwin Newton, Patrick Rowland II, Dedrick Scruggs, Frederick Taylor III, Rodrequis Thompson and Taylor Willis. They earned continuing education units for the coursework.

With the students coming to UAPB from around the country, Larry Smith says he tried to stress that they could stay in this community following graduation. “Manufacturing makes up nearly 20% of the local economy,” he told them again at the ceremony, “so there are some good job opportunities here.”

Jeri Smith praised the students for their professionalism during the course and reminded them that “their college degrees would open doors but experience (like this course) would take them up the ladder.”

Duffy echoed that praise, pointing out to the students that they are now able “to integrate classroom knowledge with real-world application” that will be invaluable as they continue training for management positions in industrial settings. The course originally was designed for industry employees needing basic hydraulic repair skill sets but, according to Larry Smith, it was a perfect match for the applied engineering students.

“These hydraulic repair skills are so needed in the community for people seeking employment in the mills and manufacturing,” he said. “Young adults need a trade that will help them make a living, and this course is an excellent option.”

Developing an advanced hydraulics repair course is Larry Smith’s next goal, and he hopes to repeat the fundamentals section next spring.