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Friday, 27 February 2015 11:48

Muskegon-area manufacturers say labor shortage could derail growth

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Business for Breakfast event hosted by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce Business for Breakfast event hosted by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce

MUSKEGON — As Muskegon-area manufacturers continue to get a bounce from the region’s economic recovery, many of them worry that their ability to continue growing will face constraints related to the availability of qualified talent.

While that concern has been the subject of headlines since the manufacturing sector began to gain steam out of the recession, local companies are questioning the long-term sustainability of Muskegon’s talent pool.

That’s according to a panel of Muskegon-area manufacturers at the Business for Breakfast event this morning hosted by the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

“On a day-to-day and month-to-month basis, it’s the technical talent drought,” said Jim Teets, president of ADAC Automotive. “We have a very difficult time replacing engineers and hiring new staff, and we need new talent like that all the time.”

Grand Rapids-based ADAC operates three manufacturing facilities in Muskegon. The manufacturer of exterior door handles employs approximately 125 engineers throughout its operations.

Teets was joined on the panel by representatives from Port City Group Inc., Eagle Alloy Inc. and Swanson Pickle Co. Inc. The panel was facilitated by Steve Olsen, president of Northern Machine Tool Co.

The talent shortage isn’t only relegated to technical talent, said John Workman, president of Eagle Alloy, a manufacturer of steel castings primarily for the oil, gas and mining industries. Attracting qualified, entry-level talent has also proved challenging for the company and could potentially curtail future growth, Workman said.

“We compete with ADAC and Port City primarily for talent, (and) what concerns me is how much the Eagle Group can grow with the employee base that’s in Muskegon,” Workman said.

The talent challenge has also filtered beyond traditional manufacturing into the region’s food processing industry. Swanson Pickle Co. has experienced a shortage of seasonal workers, particularly during the summer months, said President John Swanson.

“It never used to be this hard (to find people),” Swanson said. “It’s becoming a real problem. Everything we do now is to eliminate labor. We’ll spend an unbelievable amount of money because we can’t rely on the labor pool.”

During the summer, the company will hire 50 additional employees to work in packaging, he said. But end up with that number of workers, Swanson needs to hire twice as many people, he added.

To help alleviate the workforce constraints, Swanson advocates for immigration reform to ease the flow of migrant workers to the region.

“There are too many (agricultural) products grown outside this country,” Swanson said. “Blueberries and asparagus are left in the fields. If you produce it in the U.S., you’ll manufacture it in the U.S.”

To help solve the talent issue, the companies represented on the panel have continued their push into local middle schools and high schools to educate students about the viability of a career in manufacturing.

“It’s not your dad’s Oldsmobile anymore,” Teets of ADAC said. “It’s very high tech on the shop floor so we need employees with advanced skills before they even get to the front door.”

Teets notes that for manufacturers to gain ground on talent, students need to have conversations with their parents about pursuing a career in manufacturing. Despite working with area administrators, “ADAC needs to do a better job of reaching into the high schools ourselves,” he said.

Read 29887 times Last modified on Saturday, 28 February 2015 12:15

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