Local high schoolers got a glimpse of careers that may await them after graduation during the Made in DeKalb expo last week

Like a buffet of life options, an assortment of displays and equipment filled the Northeast Alabama Agri-Business Center in Rainsville to give local high schoolers a look at future opportunities they can pursue.

The eighth annual Made in DeKalb expo was originally scheduled for Feb. 6, but the threat of flooding from heavy rains led to schools being canceled. It was postponed until Friday, when the thousands of ninth and 12th graders from Fort Payne, DeKalb County and Cornerstone Christian Academy could be transported to attend.

“The vendors have always scheduled their time around it, so we lost several vendors because they had other obligations [on Friday],” said Jimmy Durham, executive director of DeKalb County Economic Development Authority. “It’s been pretty successful in spite of the weather.”

Durham said the expo “lets students know what jobs are available here. We all drive by these buildings every day and have no idea what they make, so this gives the students the opportunity to see what is manufactured in DeKalb County. They can decide whether they might want to go work for them at some time in the future and look for what trades they might enter. They can directly ask the companies, ‘What do I need to do in order to work for you?’”

Represented in the vendor booths were industries including agriculture, tourism, hospitality, construction, engineering, transportation, logistics, warehousing, education, health care and public safety.

In addition to introducing themselves to company representatives, the expo can also be a shoo-in for younger students who want the opportunity to join an apprenticeship program at 16 instead of having to wait until they are 18. Northeast Alabama Community College also had a large presence to promote various courses of study and dual enrollment opportunities. The students also had a chance to learn about entrepreneurial opportunities from the Alabama Department of Commerce, Small Business Administration, USDA and the Fort Payne Career Center.

DeKalb County Economic Development Authority Director of Business Retention and Expansion Pam Clay gave credit to the school systems for “working with us on short notice to get the students to the expo. It takes everyone pulling together.”

DeKalb County Superintendent Jason Barnett said Durham and Clay “really put in the legwork on this, and [Fort Payne Superintendent Jim Cunningham] and I, we support it and encourage it. It’s really interesting when you walk around and see all of the things that are made in DeKalb County that most folks probably wouldn’t recognize. This event expands career day to a much larger level because it’s not practical for industries to send people to nine different high schools to talk to students. It’s always exciting for our kids to come out here and learn about the opportunities they have locally. They realize they don’t have to go off someplace else after they graduate, that they can come back here to live and work because the quality of life is one of the attractions of living here.”

The event is a cooperative effort between EDA, the schools, local utilities and local chambers of commerce.

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