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Out & About in Cleveland

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Mentor Chamber of Commerce

On Tuesday, May 27th, we attended the monthly luncheon of the Mentor Chamber of Commerce. Today the guest speaker was Ernest J. "Ernie" Harkness, Vice President-Nuclear of FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company (FENOC) who work at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry, Ohio. According to Mr. Harkness, the plant is a real benefit to the local economy because it employs 799 full-time employees and 97% of these live locally. In addition, the plant employs from 200 to 400 contract personnel on various projects. All of these people make use of local vendors and $14 million a year is paid in taxes. In addition, FENOC makes very generous contributions to the United Way and Harvest for Hunger.

Thankfully, Mr. Harkness also discussed the increased safety measures that have been introduced since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 and 9/11. What was particularly interesting was the fact that the plant is given only 5 week advance notice before Navy Seals try to break into it to simulate a terrorist attack. We were relieved when Mr. Harkness told us not to worry because the security system did "quite well" and comparable drills are conducted several times throughout the year.

The item of information that was of most interest to Margaret W. Wong and Associates, though, was when Mr. Harkness discussed the future of the plant, as well as the nuclear industry, whose current employees are growing older; the average age of a Perry Nuclear Power Plant employee is 47 years old. Not surprisingly, the industry, as a whole, will need to replace 50,000 people before too long. Fortunately, FENOC is very aware of this and will hire 35 young people in entry level positions this year alone. Moreover, they are partnering with local colleges such as Lakeland to recruit more young workers from this area.

We gave Mr. Harkness and several other people from First Energy our information and told them to contact us should they ever need help with potential foreign born workers. To be sure, we are glad that there are many security precautions as to who can be hired and who cannot be but the energy industry touches all of our lives and we welcome a future where people from all over the world can unite and work for the common good.

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