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Laid-off automotive worker wins second chance at Renegade Materials

Chris Hocker operates the hot press at Renegade Materials Corp. Photos Ben French
Chris Hocker operates the hot press at Renegade Materials Corp. Photos Ben French

It wasn't how Chris Hocker had pictured it.

Hooked on automotives since high school, Hocker had finally established himself as a go-to guy in a job building engine fuel deck assemblies for General Motors trucks and vans. He took pride in his work at the Moraine DMAX plant, a supplier to GM.

Part of a group assigned to lead improvements within his area, "we were pioneers," he says. "We took a team that was one of the worst in the plant and turned it into one of the best."

His plan of progressing steadily within his career seemed within reach.

Then, his dream evaporated like the exhaust from a Chevy Blazer.

As the American automotive industry weakened, General Motors announced it would cease operations in Moraine. DMAX felt the impact. Staggered layoffs began, and by October 2008, Hocker was out of a job. He wondered what was next.

Today, thanks to a local-federal retraining program, Hocker has retooled. Now working for Renegade Materials Corp., a Springboro-based supplier to the aerospace industry, he is on the cutting edge of technology and Ohio's new economy.

"I was hired in February, just as my unemployment ran out," Hocker says.

While Ohio's automotive industry has fallen on hard times, the state's aerospace industry is flying high. The Ohio Department of Development says Ohio ranks seventh in the dollar value of aerospace products and parts produced in Ohio. Ohio ranks eighth based on total employment, and first in value produced per worker.

As a result, new aerospace companies are entering the picture. A case in point is Renegade, which makes lightweight composite materials designed to replace metal components on commercial and military aircraft.

Renegade opened a $5-million, state-of-the-art facility a year and a half ago with four employees. But, as the business grew, Renegade needed skilled workers who could transfer what they already knew to the demands of Renegade's high-tech environment. 

Supply, please meet demand.

Laura Gray, Renegade's director of sales and marketing, says the pool of laid off DMAX workers represented an untapped resource. Her company turned to the Dayton Development Coalition, which works to grow companies in the Dayton area in four industry clusters: aerospace research and development; human sciences and health care; information technology; advanced materials and advanced manufacturing. The Development Coalition, in turn, tapped the resources of the Montgomery County Job Center.

"We interviewed 11 candidates that were displaced by DMAX and recommended by their Human Resource Dept," Gray says. "The Montgomery County job bank staff did a wonderful job of screening their qualifications, experience with production and quality control, and team leadership experience. Shannon Swift (also a displaced worker from DMAX) and Chris Hocker were clear choices, among several very desirable candidates."

Lucious Plant, the job center's Director of Workforce Development, says matching Hocker and other laid offworkers with companies like Renegade represents the best that local, state and federal partnerships have to offer. 

"Workers are coming out of jobs, workers who are good producers, but either because of a change in the industry or in the economy, they're out of a job," Plant says.

Renegade was assisted in its retraining efforts by federal on-the-job training (OJT) funds.

"The OJT period of six-months was funded through the OJT program and paid by the Montgomery County Job Bank by reimbursing Renegade Materials for 50 percent of the workers' salaries," Gray explains.

Now Hocker is a chemical composite technician, making and testing resins needed for carbon composites.

"The transition wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," he says. "You start to learn the technology, and you still have to know your measures and weights, you have to understand tolerances. I do have to stay polished on my math skills."

Hocker says his new job affords him "a variety of things to do. I'm not in a rut of a job, there's always something new and challenging. The people here are always willing to help answer questions, and they're willing to listen (to new ideas) even to someone who's been there six months who doesn't know diddly squat."

While Hocker still has hope that the automotive industry will rebound, he sees his future in a different light today.

"I definitely see a lot better hope for me. There wasn't a lot of room for me to move before here, what you put into it you get out of it."

Now, he says, he's even thinking about going back to school "both to benefit Renegade and myself."

Now, he says, "the sky's the limit."



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