Miller Contest Winner Pays It Forward with School Donation
Garage Bound LLC owner Michael Brandt supports the welding program at Sequoyah High School both through volunteering, and recently, by donating his prize from a Miller online contest.
With a great passion for welding but no formal training, Michael Brandt turned his hobby into a successful career with help and support from friends and mentors.
Now the owner of Garage Bound, LLC, a shop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that provides custom fabrication and mobile welding services, Brandt wanted to pay that support forward and help cultivate a love of welding in others.
So when Brandt recently won an online contest sponsored by Miller Electric Mfg. Co., he donated his prize — $500 in Visa® gift cards — to the welding program at a nearby high school.
The school, Sequoyah High in Soddy-Daisy, integrates career technical education in subjects such as welding, auto mechanics, carpentry and electrical with traditional academic classes, drawing students from the southeastern Tennessee region near Chattanooga.
Brandt became familiar with the welding program after his son started attending the school and took a welding class. Brandt was impressed with the welding knowledge and skill students were learning from instructor Chris Renfro.
“The instructor really goes out of his way to teach students the applicable skills they need to go right into the workforce,” Brandt says. “He’ll go above and beyond and help find them job placements after high school.”
The program offers six welding classes, from introduction to manufacturing through all of the main welding processes. Typically, more than 50 students are enrolled in the classes each year, from freshmen to seniors. Students in the welding program use numerous machines from Miller, including a Shopmate 200 DX and Dynasty® 350 TIG welders.
The school welding program also hosts a large welding competition each spring in conjunction with the American Welding Association (AWS), drawing student welders from the tri-state region of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia.
Renfro, who has been the program instructor for eight years and is also a graduate of Sequoyah, plans to use the donation from Brandt as awards for students or to buy supplies and equipment for the welding lab.
“It was a surprise to get the donation, but it was great,” Renfro says. “We just appreciate that he stands behind us. That support is what it takes to keep the program going and to pass on the trade to new students.”
Brandt believes the diversity of his business plays a key role in its success. That’s a lesson he wants to share with students just learning the trade. He does everything from custom sculptures and metal signs to pontoon repairs and light machining applications in his new 6,600-square-foot shop and with two full mobile welding units. From the humble beginnings of his business in a two-car garage, the shop continues to grow. Brandt recently hired his second full-time employee.
“I started welding in 2008 as a hobby. I practiced every night when I got home from my day job,” Brandt says. “I’ve just been really passionate about it, and that’s what it takes.”
After getting involved with the Sequoyah High School welding program through his son, Brandt now volunteers for the school’s annual welding competition, and he has befriended Renfro, who gives Brandt stick welding tutorials.
When Brandt’s video showing his Miller weld mask won the online contest, he knew he wanted to donate his winnings to the school program.
“If I can help encourage students to go into welding — any chance I get to do that, I will,” Brandt says.