Note: This story appears in the Friday, Aug. 16 newspaper on Page A1.
ALBANY — As part of a multi-day tour across Southern Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman visited two Athens County companies Thursday to discuss with local business owners how best the federal government can support their ventures and aid in workforce development in the area.
The Republican visited RXQ Compounding, touring the company’s new manufacturing facility in Albany, and then visited BuckEye Cam, a brand of Athens Technical Specialists, Inc. (ATSI) that is located on Route 50 between Athens and Albany. Portman was interested in learning more about BuckEye Cam, as it provides thousands of trail cameras for the U.S. Border Patrol along the northern and southern borders of the U.S., in addition to providing border security for other nations.
Portman recently visited the southern border, and said Thursday he is seeking to help small businesses in Ohio which manufacture technology being used at America’s borders.
“We’re trying to be sure that they’re given a fair shake (versus) bigger companies, as they’re a small, southeastern Ohio company doing great work with the Border Patrol,” the senator said of BuckEye Cam. “We’re also trying to help them on the procurement side, because sometimes the Border Patrol wait until the last minute to place their orders.
Portman called BuckEye Cam “a great example of a good idea that’s become a nice little company here.”
Portman noted his position on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee as a way he may be able to provide some help with government procurements for small businesses in Ohio. Jeff McKnight, engineering manager for BuckEye Cam, noted the difficulty the company faces when sent large, last-minute orders placed by the Border Patrol.
ATSI General Manager Sean White echoed that problem, noting that BuckEye Cam works with Dynalab, an electronics manufacturer based in Reynoldsburg, but large orders often cannot be completed on the necessary timeline due to other orders Dynalab is handling.
To help with that, ATSI invested in an expansion for its business, and will soon begin manufacturing its own electronic bases for the sensor-based cameras. The expansion is expected to be completed and running in the next few weeks.
Portman described learning more about border security during his recent trip to Texas. Though calling the current border situation “impossible” to completely address, he said a wall combined with ground sensors and sensor-based trail cameras (such as the ones produced by Buckeye Cam) is the suitable way forward.
“These monitors are so important, because you can’t build a wall that’s big enough or tall enough that someone can’t get under it or over it or around it, but if you have monitoring equipment along with you...” he said. “As we saw in these photos today, the monitoring will tell whether (border crossers are) armed or not, whether they’re drug runners or not, so the Border Patrol can respond accurately.”
As part of its expansion, BuckEye Cam plans to work with Ohio University, the Tri-County Career Center and area high schools to give an opportunity for area students and residents to learn technical, electronics manufacturing.
Portman said he will prioritize aiding access for students seeking technical training, noting that he hopes to open federal Pell Grant applications further to include technical schooling.
“Most recently, I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation for short-term training, both at CTE’s and community colleges,” Portman said. “You can’t use a Pell if it’s a short 14-, 10-week course.”
CTE stands for Career Technical Education.
Portman earlier visited Southern State Community College in Hillsboro. He said the institution’s 5-week truck driving course may be too expensive for students to afford. Allowing Pell Grants to be used for the course would allow more students to receive the training they need for a career, the senator suggested.
“They can get the Pell to go study English, but they can’t get it to get a truck driver’s license, which would lead to a job,” Portman said. “That would make a good change, in my view, to promote more technical education and training by providing equal access to Pell (grants).”