Thumbs up:To free training program opening door to manufacturing jobs:

A statewide initiative started last summer is giving South Carolina residents, including those in Aiken County, a chance to find jobs in the manufacturing sector. Known as the South Carolina Manufacturing Certified Scholarships Ė or SCMC Ė the program helps to boost participantsís employability for in-demand jobs that offer good wages and benefits.

As manufacturing slowly bounces back in our state and across the country, employers will undoubtedly be looking for workers with the skills needed to understand and run a manufacturing process. Thankfully, programs such as SCMC are in place to offer such training. Information sessions about the effort will be held at Aiken Technical College on March 21, April 4, April 18, May 2 and May 16.

Thumbs down:To Obama budget threatening MOX:

Savannah River Siteís mission to dispose of surplus weapons-grade plutonium could soon be sidelined with President Barack Obamaís 2015 budget proposal including a funding freeze for the project.

Known as the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility Ė or MOX Ė the project clearly hasnít been an overwhelming success. The presidentís budget proposal cites the programís cost overruns and delays as the reason to explore more cost-effective alternatives to the project. However, the project was established as part of a pact with Russia as well as an agreement with South Carolina to establish commercial power reactors. Obamaís decision needs more consideration. Additional options should be weighed to make sure the project remains safe, but also viable.

Thumbs up:To veteran cyclist participating in a dedication at USC Aiken:

Army veteran Tom von Kaenel, who has biked the country to honor soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, visited USC Aiken last week as part of a ceremony commemorating service members.

A gathering of students, faculty and veterans listened to von Kaenel describe his 7,000-mile tour across the country that was dedicated to soldiers and inspired by a U.S. Air Force major that saved his life in battle. After leaving Aiken, von Kaenel headed across the river to Augusta. From there, he will continue his journey that will lead him as far south as Florida and all the way up to Alaska. Itís laudable to see such an expression of patriotism, especially in honor of the men and women who died for our country.

Thumbs down:To the retiring of local restaurant owners:

At the end of March, Russ Richardson and his wife Jennifer will be retiring from the restaurant and catering business after becoming one of the most known fixtures in the community.

The Richardons owned Papa Russís BBQ and Catering by Jennifer. They also served lunch at a food court for the Savannah River Site and had a food trailer that traveled to area events. In retirement, Russ is planning to play more golf, and Jennifer is hoping to do some traveling as well as volunteer and gardening.

Being a small business owner isnít easy work, but the Richardsons became staples of the community by offering quality food and service. They built a relationship with the community that should continue into retirement.