When state and local officials came to Koyo Bearings in Sylvania to honor Bobby Jones as one of Georgia’s Faces of Manufacturing, he passed the honor off to the rest of the plant’s employees.
Jones, a Statesboro resident and Georgia Southern University mechanical engineering alumnus, has worked at the bearing manufacturing plant that is now Koyo’s for 28 years, the last 22 as its manufacturing manager. A portion of the factory’s more than 400 employees filled the lunchroom last Wednesday morning to see Jones receive the award.
"This recognition really should not be for me,” Jones told them. “The recognition should be for each of you in this room, every one of us out here, because we all work as a team. It's the talent, the dedication that each of you put into making Koyo and this community a great place. You build the confidence."
Also present were representatives of Georgia Southern, where Jones has long advised professors on industry needs in engineering, and Ogeechee Technical College, where he now serves on the college’s local Board of Directors.
But the Faces of Manufacturing recognition, of which Jones is one of four statewide recipients in 2017, is a project of the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, based at Georgia Tech.
The agency created the Faces of Manufacturing program three years ago "to create personal interest stories to help people see who the people are working in manufacturing and that manufacturing jobs today are not the same as they were 20 or 30 years ago,” said Ben Cheeks, Coastal Region manager for the Georgia MEP.
Georgia is home to about 10,000 manufacturing sites employing 365,000 people, according to the competition website.
The sponsors solicited nominations for the 2017 Faces of Manufacturing about six months ago. More than 13,000 votes were cast, narrowing the field to 10 finalists, and votes via social media helped choose the four “faces,” Cheeks said. Koyo, Ogeechee Tech and other local organizations campaigned for votes for Jones.
“The community really came together for Bobby,” Cheeks said.
Jones had been a reluctant nominee at first, said Screven County Development Authority Executive Director Dorie Bacon. She submitted the nomination after talking him into it.
“He was a little hesitant to be nominated because he doesn’t like to be the center of attention, but I think there’s nobody better to represent this community,” Bacon said.
Koyo Plant Manager Andy Durrence said the company maintains a family-like work environment but that Jones is a serious person whose role over manufacturing processes involves making sure things are done right.
“He’s the guy that’s going to make you go a hundred miles in different ways to make sure you get it right,” Durrence said. “Bobby’s one of the reasons we’re making parts for the Mars rover this week, we’re making parts to go in fishing reels in China, so we’ve got a diversity here that’s really unique.”
A majority of the plant’s production goes into automotive parts, about 60 percent, according to Jones. But as Durrence noted, the factory’s global customers also include the aerospace industry and manufacturers of nonautomotive consumer products.
The Torrington Company established the bearings plant at Sylvania about four decades ago. The Timken Company purchased Torrington in the early 2000s and then sold the bearing manufacturing plants to JTEKT Corporation, Koyo’s Japan-based parent company, in 2009.
The company’s top leadership wants to grow the Sylvania plant and has been very supportive of efforts to maintain a skilled and up-to-date workforce, Jones said.
Toward that end, he has chaired an industry group, made up of representatives of companies in Screven, Bulloch, Evans and Emanuel counties.
"We come together trying to understand what is needed to make sure that we have a strong economic work force for the area," Jones said. "So, basically it's collaboration with partners, the dedication that you all have here, the teamwork we've put together, that's what's important."
OTC industrial lab
Jones helped make Ogeechee Technical College’s industrial maintenance fast-track program a reality, said Kathleen Kosmoski, OTC director for continuing education and industry training. The 12-week program’s first session started in January, and its third cohort graduated last week. Open to students seeking first-time jobs in industrial maintenance as well as those already working, it is aimed at job classifications where the industries in Jones’ group noted a shortage of skilled potential employees.
“He’s been really the one who got the industries together, rallied them and helped put together the curriculum and keep everybody focused on the mission, so he has been really instrumental in pulling the program together,” Kosmoski said.
Koyo was one of several area industries that helped buy equipment for the OTC industrial maintenance lab.
Both Brian Vlcek, Ph.D., chair of Georgia Southern’s long-established mechanical engineering department and Daniel Cox, Ph.D., who arrived in spring 2016 as founding chair of the manufacturing engineering department, attended the ceremony recognizing Jones. Georgia Southern’s new undergraduate manufacturing engineering degree program is the first in the southeastern United States.
Vlcek said he has known Jones about 21 years and noted that Jones has long served on the engineering programs’ professional advisory committee.
“So he’s had a very major role in also shaping the curriculum at Georgia Southern,” Vlcek said.
“Including the manufacturing engineering program,” Cox added.
Jones said he was also sharing the recognition with his wife, Katherine. Together, they own a certified therapy dog and have visited assisted living residents, library reading groups, Special Olympians and school children “bringing them comfort and enjoyment,” he noted when nominated for Faces of Manufacturing earlier this year.