“We have had a very challenging year this past year, with all the business we had to move from our Vance facility in Alabama up to Norwalk, and it was a huge undertaking. It’s our employees (who) really made it happen and this award is for them. It’s really their achievement,” said Smith, who was pleased to bring eight of the “blue-collar employees” with him to accept the award.
“This is for them — and their hard work,” he said.
The Norwalk Economic Development Corp. (NEDC) handed out multiple awards Thursday during its third annual Network After Work event.
Sandy Ridge Vineyards and Mercantile, which hosted Network After Work, and Ploger Transportation LLC also received Golden Maple Awards.
Tanya Morrow, Ploger Transportation president, said she sees the award as a way of honoring the company’s achievement and growth in Norwalk and the surrounding area. Ploger hauls food products and plastic containers.
“Pepperidge Farm is our largest customer,” Morrow said. “We employ about 85 people. … In 2003, we were a brokerage company and then in 2006, we purchased our first truck. So we started with one truck, one trailer in 2006 and now we have 62 trucks and about 140 trailers.
“Without everyone (who) has made our business successful, we wouldn’t be where we are today. The people for us … they’re our family.”
Entrepreneurial Spirit, Pushing the Envelope
Kevin and April Hipp, of the Franklin Monument Co., received the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.
Josh Snyder, the first public works director for the city of Norwalk, received the Pushing the Envelope Award. After 11 years in the Maple City, he now is the assistant city engineer in Sandusky.
Snyder was speechless when NEDC executive director Heather Horowitz called him and notified him he was receiving the award.
“It took me a second to catch my breath, to put words (together),” he said. “When she told me I got a legitimate award, it took me a second before even saying ‘thanks’ because again, as a government employee you are resigned to not get a compliment.
“It’s an homage to the work I did in Norwalk for 11 years. Nothing I ever expected to get; it’s nothing I ever planned on getting,” said the engineer, who noted that government employees generally don’t work for awards, accolades and affirmation.
“That’s not part of the deal. We’re used to taking the complaints, the unpleasantries on a regular basis. A thank-you — any thank-you — is far and far between when you work in (the) government sector. That’s just what you know going into it and when you’re working there.”
Snyder said he sees the Pushing the Envelope Award as recognizing his time and performance in Norwalk compared to similar positions.
“Again, I’m very appreciate of it,” he added. “To me, it’s just honor; I don’t know any other way to really put it. I’m pleased.”
Having been raised on a 30-acre farm, Snyder said, “Norwalk always resonated with me” and he took it as a challenge in his second year when a resident told him he “could never get sidewalks in the north end of town.”
“As an engineer, you love challenges. You love building stuff and seeing results. Involving the business sector was second nature to me,” he added, referring to road accessibility to a U.S. 20 business during a construction project.
“I think in a community this small, the city has to be connected with the businesses — and there cannot be a disconnect, especially in items as important and as overarching as infrastructure. It affects lots of people.”
Innovation through STEM
Norwalk City Schools received the Innovation Award.
“I think it just affirms all the hard work and effort is finally paying off. It’s very encouraging to see that other people have taken notice of what we’ve tried to incorporate into our district in the last few years,” said Corey Ream, the director of student operations.
There is a LEGO STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) robotics lab at Pleasant Elementary for second- and third-grade students. Fourth-graders at League Elementary learn about coding and sphero robotics. Maker Space is an eighth-grade elective at Norwalk Middle School while the similar class at NHS is an elective available to freshmen through seniors.
“Really our STEM initiative goes all the way down to kindergarten and first grade. We are one of the few districts in the area to have explicit computer instruction as an elective class for all of our kindergartners and first-graders,” Ream said.
The school was honored for incorporating STEM into educational methods.
“It really doesn’t pay to be innovative unless it’s translating into the children,” Ream said. “STEM isn’t about stuff; it’s not about having the most 3-D printers or the most lasers; it’s about putting teachers in a position to work with kids and make marked differences in their lives.”
Many of the STEM projects and classes in the district partner fun with education. Superintendent George Fisk said seeing students in an NEDC video smiling as they learned about the “love of learning” while being engaged is “the pot of gold” the district has been pursuing for several years.
Fisk, Ream, technology director Amie Swope and science teacher Scott Spettle received the award from Horowitz.
“You almost have to trick (students) into learning. Kids in this day and age are so used to being engaged at all points in their life, (so) if we don’t do that as a school system, they’re not going to care about what we’re really trying to teach them. We almost have to learn through play, especially with the younger ones,” Ream said.
“Kids today are native users of technology. They are born and bred with technology in their hands, so as a school if we can capture that at a young age and teach them how to use it for educational purposes, it pays off huge dividends for us later on,” he added, noting that all the state testing is done online. “Nobody is going to have a job that doesn’t have some sort of technology component in their future.”