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North Idaho technical school inspires entrepreneurial careers

Entrepreneurs Wally Rohr (left) and Kameron Martinez plan to open a business next year using the skills they learned at Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum.
Darren Svan, Idaho Ed News
Entrepreneurs Wally Rohr (left) and Kameron Martinez plan to open a business next year using the skills they learned at Kootenai Technical Education Campus in Rathdrum.

Idaho seniors Kameron Martinez and Wally Rohr won’t be attending college after graduation, but they’re not traveling for a gap year or sitting idle at home.

Backed by extensive workforce training during high school, Martinez and Rohr are preparing for a postsecondary journey that most 17-year-olds would never dream of — becoming automotive entrepreneurs. In addition to attending high school, both attend Kootenai Technical Education Center, Martinez in welding and metal fabrication, and Rohr in automotive technology. Martinez attends Kootenai Bridge Academy and Rohr Venture Academy.

According to the State Board of Education, last year about 42% of Idaho’s high school graduates — or about 8,500 students — enrolled in college academic or career-technical programs immediately after graduating from high school. Martinez and Rohr will join the 58% on a different path.

Soon they will be launching Elite Mobile Automotive & Weld of North Idaho. They created an LLC, purchased business insurance, are working on an IRS employer identification number, are setting up a business bank account with $5,000 of their own capital and are pursuing a roadside assistance permit. They have a donated 24 x 8 foot trailer and will seek a loan for a company truck.

“Our main thing is we don’t want to have to work for someone for the rest of our lives. And if we can start a company younger, it’d be better than starting when we’re in our mid-20s or 30s,” Martinez said.

KTEC is a partnership between business, local manufacturers, and the Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Lakeland school districts. They provide industry training for juniors and seniors in 13 career disciplines, like plumbing, nursing and construction trades.

Rohr credits KTEC for much of his technical knowledge and automotive interest. He’s disassembled and reassembled an engine, rebuilt transmissions, lifted beds off the back of pickup trucks, installed fuel pumps, overhauled front-ends and fixed axle seals.

“That showed me that it’s not as difficult as I thought,” Rohr said.

On the welding side, Martinez is involved in steel work for trucks or cars, and wire feed, stick and TIG welding, which is all three forms, Martinez said. “There are many different roads that you can go down.”

The college path isn’t for everyone. “I don’t see the opportunity cost to go to college, in my mind, making me successful in 20 years for what I want to do,” Rohr said. “It would make more sense in my eyes to go straight into the work field right out of high school.”

Martinez feels more pressure to attend college but a welding certification is an opportunity that he won’t pass up. “I don’t want student debt for however many years after high school. I’d rather just start my business now while I have my certification,” he said.

Their mobile automotive repair business will target customers who need a mechanic but want to avoid costly towing, like a pickup truck with a broken CV axle in the backcountry. They will provide automotive welding and body repair services.

“They could call us and we would be able to get out to them and fix anything that they need,” Martinez said.

They’ve been working since the age of 14. Rohr started in sandblasting and powder coating car parts, then food service and now he’s an ignition servicer and accessory installer making $19 an hour working 32 hours per week. Martinez started as a marina dock lead fueling and servicing boats and he’s now in the shipping department at Impact Dog Crates making $20 an hour working 30 hours per week.

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This story was originally published by Idaho Ed News.