Faces of Manufacturing

In Demands Job Week Profile: Tool and die maker molds future starting with apprenticeship

While he was already inching toward a college degree and working full time, Joe Zagorec changed courses and took a chance.

It was 1995 when he decided to leave his studies at Youngstown State University and go into a skilled trades apprenticeship.

“It’s kind of a big career change, but the opportunity presented itself and I took advantage of it,” Zagorec said.

He’s now a tool and die maker at ClarkDietrich in Vienna, where he’s been since 2016.

Previously, he was at Delphi Electric for 25 years working on molds and progressive dies after going through their tool and die apprenticeship.

Tool and die maker stands at grinder.
Joe Zagorec is a tool and die maker at ClarkDietrich in Vienna. He began his career in the mid-1990s with a four-year apprenticeship.

Making the switch

He realized he enjoyed the atmosphere of the classroom-machine shop setup.

The apprenticeship was two years in the classroom then two years in the plants applying what he learned while working under a journeyman’s mentorship.

“It’s different” learning in a traditional college setting and working, compared to applying lessons hands-on, Zagorec said.

Completing an in-house apprenticeship allows for the employer to “mold” the training employee to learn different roles within the company, Zagorec said.

New beginnings

Before joining ClarkDietrich, Zagorec didn’t work with rotary dies.

Instead, he worked on progressive dies, running 1,500 strokes a minute.

Learning the new skill wasn’t difficult, he said.

“The concept is the same as far as die work.”

During his apprenticeship, Zagorec learned mostly conventional, he said.

As his career has evolved, he’s gotten involved with wires and sinkers, which are more CNC aspects.

Looking at the numbers

The average hourly wage for a tool and die maker is $27, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Annually, that’s about $56,200.

Closer to home, the average hourly rate is $21, or $43,700 annually.

To earn credentials in tool and die making, courses can be taken at Trumbull County Technical Center, Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, Columbiana County Career and Technical Center, and Eastern Gateway Community College.

A career path for everyone

Becoming a tool and die maker has provided a stable life for Zagorec and his family.

“It’s been an excellent career choice,” he said, noting he was able to pay his daughter’s college tuition to become a teacher.

For high school students, “manufacturing is an excellent opportunity” to research.

Even students with straight-As and those who are National Honor Society members should consider the skilled trades if they like working with their hands and minds, Zagorec said.

“I never would have pictured myself” in manufacturing “because no one ever pushed it in high school.”

That’s why talking with students about apprenticeships is crucial, Zagorec said.

“There are so many opportunities for trades… that are great, stable careers.”

For information on funding apprenticeships or upskilling employees, visit TechCred and WorkAdvance.

Faces of Manufacturing

Lake Park lathe operator takes professional-grade snapshots

During the day, Terrance Jones is a lathe operator at Lake Park Tool and Machine in Youngstown.

At night and on weekends, he’s a photographer.

Jones got his start in photography in 2010 when his daughter graduated from high school, and “I had to pay for those senior pictures,” he said.

Prior to that, Jones usually had a camcorder in tow, documenting life around him.

Mostly self-taught, Jones photographs weddings, senior portraits and maternity sessions. For training, he attends workshops and watches YouTube.

Then, Jones gets out and practices, as his goal is to do as little editing to the file as possible.

Building out

He’s looking to branch into business-to-business photography, putting a creative flair on portraits.

Originally, Jones used Canon digital single-lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, but now has a mirrorless Sony that he carries with him to work.

Terrance Jones holds his new camera.
While he is a lathe operator at Lake Park Tool and Machine, Terrance Jones also is a photographer when he’s not at work.

“I love it,” he said of the newer investment. “What you see is what you get.”

His precision at work with the lathe has lent itself to Jones having a steady hand for photography, he said.

Looking back

When he was growing up, Jones didn’t think he’d be building things by day and creating lifetime mementos as a side hustle.

“I can see from my childhood” that he would have gone down his exact path, watching his father work on lawn mowers, installing dry wall, Jones said.

He applies the same approach to working in manufacturing, by working with his hands, that he does with photography.

“I’m all hands-on” during the learning process, Jones said.

Terrance Jones works at the lathe.
Growing up, Terrance Jones knew he would work with his hands. Now, he’s not only a lathe operator at Lake Park Tool and Machine, but also a photographer in his free time.

Industrial support system

Calling Jones a “fantastic machinist,” RJ Fryan, CEO of Lake Park Tool and Machine, and the Lake Park team overall support Jones in his photography, which like his daytime work, has a lasting impact.

“How many miners did you make this week, Terrance? Great, you hit your number. You also helped a couple have the happiest day of their life,” Fryan said.

He and Jones have discussed advertising options and different ways to explore getting the word out about Jones’ photography skills.

[View Jones’ portfolio here.]

“It’s beholding on us as the manufacturers now to support” employees in their extracurricular activities, Fryan said.

“How many lathe operators exist in the world that do this?” Fryan said, referring to Jones’ photography.

Working within a company where he’s encouraged to grow with his hobby and passion is rare, Jones said.

“It’s beautiful. You don’t get that too often.”

Member Manufacturers

Valley Partners, a nonprofit funding source for local businesses

Are you preparing to finance a project to expand your business?

Look no further for option than to MVMC new member Valley Economic Development Partners.

Since 1978, the nonprofit has helped local small businesses with loans.

“We offer and facilitate a variety of loan programs to support small businesses with specialized flexible lending solutions.,” said Teresa Miller, executive director.

Think of it as bridge or gap financing packages.

There are a number of options, including larger SBA-partnered programs, where Valley Partners mitigates risk to the bank and client by funding a portion of the project.

“We take a second position on collateral behind the bank,” Miller said.

Valley Economic Development Partners employees pictured, left to right, front row, are: Julie Swauger, office manager/trust manager; Madison Hoover, loan assistant/marketing manager; Teresa Miller, executive director; Cassie Wyatt, business coach. Left to right, back row, are: Mario Nero, director of economic development lending; Greg Lutz, financial specialist; Maureen Stenglein, SBA lobal officer; and Wendy Walters, director of servicing.

If a business applies for a loan at a bank, the bank can say the business must have 20 percent equity for a $5 million project.

Valley Partners enters, offering funding for 40 percent of the project, while the bank offers 50 percent. That will leave the business portion to 10 percent.

There are smaller loan programs, where Valley Partners is able to fund without bank participation as well.

A long-time popular option which will likely see a resurgence Miller said is a loan fund from the Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) called the Regional 166. It is targeted for the manufacturing industry.

While interest rates are on the rise, Regional 166 loans will most likely remain around 3 to 4 percent.

This is great for expansions, equipment purchases, location moves or purchasing a new building, Miller said. If a company wants to finance on their own, Valley Partners can utilize the Regional 166 loan for 75 percent of the project if the business funds the remaining 25 percent.

“This is a perfect loan fund program for fixed assets a manufacturing company might be looking for.”

For more information or to being the application process, visit

“We’re here to help and partner with their banks to make the best loan package that’s possible for small businesses in the Valley.”

Member Manufacturers

Member PanelMatic aims to grow staff

How many times when you’re driving along a stretch of interstate, and you come up behind a massive building-like structure creeping along, escorted and plastered with “WIDE LOAD” signs?

Chances are, some of those could be modular buildings manufactured by MVMC newer member PanelMatic Building Solutions of Brookfield.

The modular buildings are largely used as substation control buildings, power distribution centers and switchgear motor control centers.

PanelMatic can also create modified shipping containers, mull pulpits, operator cads, large enclosures to shelter equipment, battery storage enclosures and general heavy fabrication skidded equipment.

Founded in 1957 in Youngstown, PanelMatic split from Dearing Compressor years later.

Founder Bud Dearing was making his way into electrical controls, and to keep distribution, the company had to separate the electrical side, said Dan Vodhanel, general manager of the Brookfield location.

Splitting further in 2019, PanelMatic moved the modular building out of the Youngstown Plant, which now handles control pandels. That’s when PanelMatic Building Solutions was born.

Since 2019, employees have worked in a 73,000-square-foot facility at 6882 Parkway Drive in Brookfield.

PanelMatic Building Solutions in Brookfield builds and then ships specially crafted modular containers and buildings.

“We’re a very large job shop. Every order is custom to suite our customers’ needs,” Vodhanel said.

There are currently 30 employees, and Vodhanel aims to hire another 20 in the next two years to cover positions in manufacturing, engineering and electricity.

The process of creating a modular building begins when the engineering team reviews a quote and specifications. Then, the design is drawn up and sent to the customer for approval. After that, crews begin manufacturing the building.

Once the building is erected, it’s painted, then electricians from IBEW Local 2241 – PanelMatic’s union – install electrical components.

When the building is done, it’s shrink-wrapped and shipped.

Vodhanel has taken advantage of various programs to help upskill his employees, including On-The-Job training payment programs and TechCred for welding certification and software for engineers.

PanelMatic in Brookfield was also awarded the Excellence in Manufacturing in 2020 from the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.

Media Coverage

Job seekers and employers linked at Youngstown Works job fair

Within the first half hour of a five-hour job fair, Vallourec was scheduling candidates for job interviews for the next day.

“We had openings for condensed-session interviews, and those spots were filled almost immediately,” said Elizabeth Aukerman, Vallourec talent acquisition specialist.

Vallourec was among 70 entities from the Mahoning Valley, including MVMC members, to participate in the Youngstown Works inaugural hiring event.

Dave Macek, human resources business partner at Vallourec, talks with two job seekers during a hiring event in Youngstown.

Finding employees

Youngstown Works is a consortium of employers and educational partners spearheaded by MyPath Mahoning Valley.

More than 200 job seekers attended. Some interviewed on the spot and others started the application process.

Bringing employers and schools together for the hiring event is one approach when finding employees, said Julie Michael Smith, MVMC project manager.

“Reaching job seekers has been diverse, through hiring events, social media and referrals,” she said.

Job seekers can also talk with companies one-on-one about what to expect at facilities when they connect at job fairs.

For manufacturing, many people think they have a sense of what the industry is, “an outdated misconception” that every facility is dark, loud and filled with back-breaking work.

“It’s completely changed” with emerging technology and updating facilities coming into play, Smith said.

Rethinking the workplace

Peoples’ expectations about work have changed, too.

There has been “lots of turnover” over the last couple of years, as people have reevaluated what they’ve been doing at the workplace.

“Now, people are looking to reskill” and even train for something new, Smith said.

A recruiter talks with students.
Nichole Noday, a human resources generalist with Ultium Cells, LLC, left, talks with East High School juniors Carlos Gonzalez, Tyreek West and Eddie Pierce.

To help job seekers connect with careers in manufacturing, technology and health care, MVMC serves as operations manager for the Ohio To Work Mahoning Valley program, which runs through 2022.

“Ohio To Work is an opportunity to focus on showing job seekers what manufacturing is today,” Smith said.

For more information on Ohio To Work hiring events, contact Smith at

Member Manufacturers

City Machine Technologies, others team up on Kids Career Fair

Through a local partnership, children were introduced to manufacturing as they spent time learning hands-on what it means to be part of the industry.

During the Kids Career Fair held at the Mahoning County Career and Technical Center, manufacturer member City Machine Technologies, Inc. and Oh Wow! The Roger and Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technolog presented an early afternoon of encouraging children and their parents to consider workforce development as they get older.

During the Kids Career Fair, youngsters participated in hands-on activities to show what manufacturing is about. Pictured, two girls demonstrate the extruding process with Play-Doh at the MVMC booth.

“This is a great opportunity to introduce students and their families to what modern manufacturing is,” said Allison Engstrom, project manager for MVMC.

“Our goal at MVMC is to find ways to bring people into the manufacturing industry, and one of the ways we are doing that is through youth outreach, where we promote conversations with children about their future,” Engstrom said.

Over the course of four hours, 1,000 people attended, visiting not only CMT, but also the exhibits from fellow MVMC members Vallourec and Marsh Bellofram.

Each table offered information, hands-on fun and a presentation about various roles in manufacturing.

There were more than 40 organizations and career tech programs from around the Mahoning Valley who set up booths and presentations, showing different career paths available.

At MVMC’s booth, about 200 children – mostly elementary and middle school students – rolled up their sleeves and used Play-Doh to learn about extruding.

To discuss ways to build community outreach programs, contact Engstrom at

Faces of Manufacturing

Livi Steel welder looks at his work through an artist’s lens

When most people think of welders, the word ‘artist’ isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.


But that’s exactly how Stacey Gray describes himself.


“I think it’s a form of art,” the Livi Steel Inc. employee said. “When you weld, it’s almost like drawing. It takes a lot of thought.”

Stacey Gray stands in front of steel beams.
Stacey Gray is a welder at Livi Steel in Warren. He encourages people to check out the trade, saying that it’s okay to make mistakes along the way.

Gray got his start in welding when he was working at VXI in downtown Youngstown. He was encouraged to look into Flying HIGH, and enrolled in the school after checking it out.


Growing up, Gray didn’t consider manufacturing as a career.


“I had no clue. I was lost when I was younger and didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said.


As he got older, friends encouraged him to pursue welding.


Gray is certified in stick welding, and his favorite type of weld is vertical up with stick.

Stacey Gray welds a beam at Livi Steel in Warren.
Approaching his work as art, Stacey Gray is recognized at Livi Steel as a precise welder with strong work ethic.

“I like the flow” of the process, he said. “After you’re done, the bead is so pretty.”

Recognized for detail

His craft is noticed beyond his work.


Donald Livi, president of Livi Steel, praises Gray’s attention and dedication to work.


“Stacey’s work ethic can be described as admirable,” Livi said.


“His skills allow him to be effective, productive and efficient.”


When he’s not welding and earning certifications, Gray produces music and raps.


To anyone interested in a career change or looking for a new direction, Gray suggests to consider manufacturing.


There’s a consistent form of growing and challenging yourself, he said.


“It’s an environment where you’ll always have to be aware,” Gray said.


Going into a trade, be prepared to make mistakes. “It’s like with everything – you get better with time,” Gray said.


Livi Steel is a member of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition.

Member Manufacturers

Salem manufacturer ships around world

In the industrial portion of Salem is a larger-than-life manufacturer with ties all around the world.


Founded in 1985 by engineer John Buta, Butech Bliss is known globally for rugged machinery, notably a scrap chopper.


Butech Bliss is an MVMC member.


The Butech Bliss scrap chopper processes ferrous and non-ferrous metals that are various thicknesses and material yield strengths.

A machinist works at Butech Bliss in Salem.
Bill Bingham, a machinist with Butech Bliss, operates and retools an Ingersoll planer Mill with a 420” table and 100,000-pound weight capacity.

Buta still owns the company today that employs 294 people.


In the early 2000s, Butech purchased the assets of Bliss which included a large manufacturing facility the newly combined companies are now known as Butech Bliss.


Employees can install the new machinery once it’s complete, also training customers on how to use the new equipment.


Family atmosphere


Walking through Butech Bliss, many of the employees have a welcoming, close demeanor.


That’s partly due to a family atmosphere with low turnover.


“We have many employees that have been with the company for many years. Butech Bliss is a family-owned business and they set in place a very nice benefits package with a rich vacation package, paid medical insurance and annual bonus just to mention a few,” Lisa Kravec, marketing and advertising manager, said.


There’s also an investment in new employees.


Butech Bliss offers an apprenticeship program for machinists and large equipment assemblers.


Big projects


The three facilities in Salem are a combined 500,000 square feet.
The Bliss portion makes the steel.


Jobs at Butech Bliss are oftentimes massive, said Lisa Kravec, marketing and advertising manager.

Two Butech Bliss large assembly equipment technicians work on a stretch leveler also used in the processing of steel.
Two Butech Bliss large assembly equipment technicians work on a stretch leveler also used in the processing of steel.

“Sometimes our pieces are so big we have to hire super trucks that have 19 axels and are escorted by police cars,” she said.


Then there was the time Butech Bliss build the world’s largest shear for a client in Germany.


To transport the machinery overseas, a ship from a Cleveland port was hired, Kravec said.


Helping to further shape the manufacturing field, Butech Bliss is building machinery for the nation’s most efficient steel plant in Siton, Texas.


A hot mill will go in, surrounded by service centers. One of the centers has purchased two service lines.


“We’re getting to be a player in this huge project in Texas. It’s exciting,” Kravec said.

Faces of Manufacturing

Shop foreman at Livi enjoys close work ties, reliable life provided by manufacturing

Walking into Livi Steel in Warren, there’s a close bond that is obvious as soon as you walk in the office and shop doors.


One of the reasons it’s a familiar atmosphere is due to the shop foreman, Michael Simmons.


Overseeing day-to-day production of the 16-crew shop, Michael enjoys his work because he likes spending time with his coworkers, but he also enjoys manufacturing.

Michael Simmons verifies markings on a steel beam.
Michael Simmons, shop foreman at Livi Steel, has worked with the company in Warren for about 25 years. His father was also shop foreman.

“My favorite part of my job is loading all the different trucks and helping coworkers solve problems,” he said.


Michael keeps track of inventory in the shop, along with what is being shipped and received, and anything involving the trucks delivering and taking steel.


He’s been with Livi Steel for about 25 years.


Adding to the family atmosphere, Michael’s father, Charlie, was shop foreman for 35 years.


“He taught me how to do this job,” Michael said.


Also working in the shop is his uncle Dave, a fitter, and previously uncle Bob, also a fitter and first responder.


Working his way up the ladder with Livi, Michael encourages anyone searching for a solid career to check out manufacturing.


He started as a laborer and after learning every role at Livi, he is now the shop foreman.


“Working here means a steady paycheck and good benefits,” he said.


In addition to being a leader at Livi Steel, Michael enjoys riding motorcycles and watching sports.


He roots for the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State.


Most important and the most fun, though, is spending time with family, especially now that he’s a new grandfather.

Faces of Manufacturing

300th Apprentice’s story illustrates career growth potential in manufacturing

Last month we reported that the Greater Oh-Penn Manufacturing Apprenticeship Network, of which MVMC is a part, reached its 5-year goal of enrolling 300 registered apprentices in the American Apprenticeship Initiative grant.


In fact, 18 MVMC members were among 70 manufacturers in the region to participate in this $2.9 million grant.


This month we tracked down the apprentice who pushed us over the top. He is 29-year-old Mark Kmecik of Girard, Pa., from Northwestern Manufacturing in Lake City, Pa. His backstory illustrates the rewarding, long-term career paths available in manufacturing and is worth sharing.

An apprentice works on machinery.
Helping MVMC meet its goal of 300 registered apprentices for a grant was Mark Kmecik, through Northwestern Manufacturing in Pennsylvania.

After serving in the U.S. Navy, Mark attended trade school for CNC machining.


He secured a job that offered an apprenticeship program so he could continue learning and earn additional certifications to advance his career.


He’s hoping to complete his current apprenticeship in 2 or 3 years, Mark said.


“I just started, but I am looking forward to branching out and growing my knowledge in more areas of machining.”


The program at NWM isn’t necessarily time-based, Clay Brocious, plant manager, said.


“Based on the framework provided by the Greater Oh-Penn Manufacturing Apprenticeship Network, our program is a knowledge and competency-based program.”


Apprenticeship programs help shape people’s work trajectory, Mark said.

Mark Kmecik is a U.S. Navy veteran who recently enrolled in an AAI apprenticeship program.

“I think offering structured training is a good way for companies to attract and retain goal-oriented people by giving them clear objectives for growth,” Mark said.


When he’s not studying, Mark and his wife, Lydia, are kept busy with their 1-year-old daughter, Eve.