By Ron VandenBoom
Joe Mazurek, Attorney General and Democratic candidate for governor, visited the Havre General Electric Maintenance Facility on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railroad Wednesday in a campaign swing that will take him to Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap today.
Al Beute, director of the GE facility in Havre, and Darryll Thackeray, dean of technology at MSU-Northern, explained the relationship between Havre's GE operation and Northern's four-year automotive and diesel technology degree programs.
"Part of the campaign is learning what's going on in your state," Mazurek said, when asked why he had chosen to visit the GE facility. "We're looking for ways to find jobs like are offered here that pay significant wages, because we need more of them here in this state."
Beute explained that Havre currently has 65 hourly employees and about 10 management personnel that work at the Havre Diesel Shop.
He also explained that the 6,000 horsepower diesel electric engines, fiber optics, and computers, require a high degree of technical expertise and the degree programs at Northern represent a perfect marriage between the work done here and the school.
Mazurek said he had learned "right out of the chute" that it's an important partnership between higher education and a private enterprise.
"It shows that if we invest in higher ed, that it will pay dividends for us," he said while sitting at the controls of a locomotive. "And also it will help us with economic development."
Thackeray, noting that Northern has a national standing of excellence in its technology programs, referred to the school as "the best kept secret in Montana." He told Mazurek that major corporations outside of Montana are well aware of Northern's high degree of excellence and refer students here all the time.
About nine automotive or diesel students currently work at Havre's GE facility as interns and two students will be traveling to Pennsylvania this summers as interns. Two students from out of state will also be coming to Havre this summer, Beute said.
Mazurek just recently visited the biotechnology facility at MSU-Bozeman and noted the development of pharmaceuticals that are used to prevent disease demonstrates that there are "little pockets" of exciting things going on throughout the state.
"There's some exciting things going on here," he said. "We just have to build on them."
Mazurek said Montana does not currently have a commitment, or stream of revenue, that goes to research and development in the university system.
"It's hit and miss funding every year," he said. "What's important is to make a commitment and to sustain it."
Mazurek explained that when competing for grants, it's important to be able to demonstrate that you are going to be able to have money to match year after year if you hope to receive continued support.
"It is important to develop a long term commitment of funds to allow this to happen," he said.