The 20 million pounds of cheese that gets shredded or processed every month in Portage is perhaps the easiest way to imagine why AMPI is looking for more workers.
The Portage division of Associated Milk Producers Inc. hosted its second job Monday fair since May and is seeking about 20 workers in positions that range from entry level to highly skilled.
“The biggest message we’re sending today is that we will train employees – we’re looking for the right people to be on our team,” Plant Manager Polly Koepp said during a tour of the facility. “The team concept is very strong here. We need the right people to be successful.”
Monday’s job fair was led by QTI Group, a local staffing agency that offers several temp-to-hire positions at AMPI. QTI – which already had seven prospective employees fill out applications in the first hour – has about 80 total openings in the Portage area, most of them in production. At AMPI, temp-to-hire openings are for second and third shifts in production and maintenance, which start at $14 or $15 an hour.
“As long as an employee meets employer requirements,” QTI’s Evelyn Ruiz said, “there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be hired on.”
Temporary workers hired via QTI typically work 90 days before getting hired on by AMPI, at which point the employee receives benefits and about $2 boost in pay.
Ruiz estimated QTI filled more than 20 jobs at its AMPI job fair in May. “We always have people calling us after the event. It’s great.”
AMPI’s Portage division, located at 301 Brooks St., has been in business locally for more than 50 years, Koepp said. With 343 total employees, AMPI is one of the largest employers in Columbia County.
The Portage plant does not make cheese – it processes and shreds it – converting the milk-based product from 700-pound blocks or 500-pound barrels into 5- to 10-pound bags for various food service companies.
The company will add another line in the coming months, creating up to 10 jobs. Koepp said because of the company’s longevity, the Portage division has had a lot of retirements recently, opening up even more jobs. Ralph Schutz has been with the company for 45 years. “He worked his way up from entry level,” Koepp said of Schutz, who is now a supervisor.
“Many of our managers moved up from entry level,” she added. “We give our employees a chance to grow.”
Once hired on, an AMPI employee receives benefits including health, dental, vision, life, long- and short-term disability, 401K and vacation packages.
The Portage division of AMPI has received 39 first-place awards for its processed cheeses since 2001. It has received 101 total awards in the past 16 years.
This year, the Portage plant won first place awards for processed cheeses at the World Dairy Expo Championship Dairy Products Contest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the U.S. Championship Cheese Contest.
“We really are the best at what we do here,” Koepp said, “and we want the best employees.”