A scissor lift rising to give children a different point of view was not the only thing reaching new heights Saturday in downtown Sumter.
Thompson Construction's lift, which employee volunteers used to demonstrate safety and job site equipment by …
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Thompson Construction's lift, which employee volunteers used to demonstrate safety and job site equipment by harnessing kids and letting them "ride" it, showed them the 69 other businesses, schools, industries and organizations set up along South Main Street in front of Central Carolina Technical College for the second-annual eSTEAM Festival. The event offered children of all ages the chance to both play and learn at booths featuring hands-on activities centered around STEM and the arts.
"Education is the foundation for the community," said Jason Browder, tool coordinator for Thompson, a presenting sponsor for the event that is put on by TheLINK and Sumter Economic Development.
Near the scissor lift at ground-level, activities at the Thompson booth included a water gun station to represent the Thompson Family of Companies' use of high-pressure washing, a photo booth station where families could stand in front of a massive banner featuring one of the company's actual construction sites and a drill station where kids made holes in a piece of wood to create a triangle peg game.
Near them, half the CCTC parking lot at Main and Bartlette streets was transformed into a bounce house city, with kids shooting basketballs into inflatable creations, others climbing up to slide down next door. After a parade and opening ceremony kicked off the day - a new feature this year headlined by cheerleading and marching band combinations from Sumter's three high schools and Morris College - thousands of people meandered up and down South Main.
A lot of kids - and even adults - have never operated a power tool before, Browder said, so their stations were meant to introduce them to the job duties entailed when working at a national construction company such as Thompson.
Other booths welcomed kids to make paint handprints on a piano with the Sumter County Opera House or perform CPR on a dummy at the Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital booth. Kids helped build a bicycle at Bicycle Corporation of America's booth and made slime at EMS Chemie's booth. They created and tested, drew, drove, detonated.
Browder said events like eSTEAM make him and other employees at Thompson feel like they belong to more than just a paycheck.
"We're not just part of a company but part of a family," he said. "It's really about giving back."
Giving back and bringing the community together is what makes companies like SKF do more than plant roots in Sumter. Being this year's titanium sponsor of eSTEAM, the company - formerly Kaydon Corp., which was recently bought out by the global-market Swedish company - they are growing and hiring.
SKF's bearing produced in Sumter have been on Mars. On Saturday's they had some of their products on display, including small robotic vehicles kids could drive. Marcus Jakob, director of operations for SKF-Sumter, said he hopes events like eSTEAM draw in the next generation of industrial workers.
Industry is more than iron workers now, he said. With the field trending more toward high-skilled, high-wage jobs that require certifications in high-tech areas of study, they want those living in the Sumter and surrounding region to know they can get those jobs here now.
"Our people are our biggest asset, so we're hiring," Jakob said. "You see it in this festival right here. It's not a big city where you're lost. Everyone can come together."
Growth in both companies with local plants and branches and the festival itself is what eSTEAM's organizers are working toward. With it helping that this year marked the first day it felt like fall as opposed to the inaugural festival where it was so hot the attending food trucks could cook an egg on their hoods, Erika Williams was all smiles.
"It's all about getting them exposed. You don't know what you don't know. Some of these kids are absolutely amazed because they don't always think about how things are made," said Williams, who is the manager of communications and strategic initiatives for Sumter Economic Development and TheLINK, an economic development alliance between Lee and Sumter counties.
She said not mutually exclusive of the 70 booths, about 20 organizations made the event happen, from sponsorships to planning to executing. There was chalk art already imprinted on the road, and food vendors were set up as nearby restaurants busted at the seams all day.
That collaboration is not a new idea for those who have been paying attention to the redevelopment of Sumter in recent years, but even those who came by eSTEAM this year without having heard of it before could likely reap the results.
"I love seeing the smiling faces on the kids running around having a great time. This is something that Sumter needed. This is something this region needs making sure we're answering the call to give Sumter and this region what it needs to grow," Williams said as kids squawked past her. "This is their future workforce. Not only is this their future lawyers and future doctors, it's also their future technicians, engineers, IT people, administrators principals it all comes together uniquely and collaboratively."
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