1st Choice in Portage

Amberly Edwards and Tammy Chapman of 1st Choice Staffing Solutions review materials Friday at their branch office in Portage.

Portage manufacturers looking for skilled workers might soon get help from the city’s newest staffing agency.

The business 1st Choice Staffing Solutions opened in late March in downtown Portage to become the city’s fourth staffing agency, joining Remedy Intelligent Staffing, Markent Personnel Inc. and the QTI Group.

Owner Amberly Edwards said the staffing agency — headquartered in Baraboo since 2016 — understands that local manufacturers have struggled to find skilled workers, especially following expansions.

“I think a lot of manufacturing companies don’t know about us yet,” Edwards said. “They think because we handle a lot of resort work in the Dells that we don’t do factory work.

“But I’ve reached out to multiple manufacturers and I’m telling them, ‘I can get you help.’”

Portage Branch Manager Tammy Chapman, among the company’s six staff members between the two locations, said 1st Choice’s manufacturing clients in Portage have in the past included Saint-Gobain and that 1st Choice will try to lengthen its manufacturing client list in the months ahead.

“We’re still in the process of getting ourselves settled into Portage,” Chapman said. “We reach out everywhere and want to help all local businesses.

“We’re a small-town business trying to help small towns. That’s what we do.”

Currently, 1st Choice has more than 400 employees, not including workers who were hired on by the clients. As of Friday, the 1st Choice website showed full-time, part-time and temporary jobs open in such job categories as data technician, call center representative, lumber piler, lifeguard, dishwasher and more. The company is able to place workers anywhere in the world, Edwards said, but most often deals with clients based in Sauk, Dane, Columbia and Juneau counties.

Edwards said 1st Choice once helped an undisclosed Baraboo manufacturer fill 70 positions in just two months, crediting that success to “tight-knit communication” among all parties and doing whatever it takes to get an employee started off on the right foot.

“We’ve even given rides to people, and we’ll give them gas vouchers, too, when needed,” Edwards said.

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Steve Sobiek, the city’s director of business development and planning, said he “wholeheartedly welcomes” the staffing agency to Portage because recruiting qualified employees for open manufacturing positions is “job No. 1” for economic development.

“Every employer in the city of Portage is looking for qualified workers,” Sobiek said.

Portage manufacturers that recently announced expansions include Dawn’s Foods, which expects to add 30 jobs, Wieser Concrete, which expects to add five to 10 jobs and Encapsys, which expects to add five jobs.

Portage staffing agencies have at times been “critical” in helping local manufacturers find their workers, Sobiek said, and he sees 1st Choice as “another resource” for them to streamline their applicant screening process.

Both Sobiek and Edwards said any company with extensive hiring needs would be smart to reach out to multiple staffing agencies instead of just one.

In the big picture, Portage seems to be keeping more young people in the city compared with its neighbors, which should bode well for businesses if the positive trend holds, Sobiek said. According to a recent study from Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the median age among the residents of Portage is 36.7, whereas the median age in Baraboo is 38.9 and in Beaver Dam it’s 38.86.

Portage might also get good news in transportation.

“We already have the 24-hour taxi service, which a lot of cities don’t have,” Sobiek said, “but I think we’ll see another transportation provider arriving in 2019.”

Sobiek said the new provider would serve as another “low-cost transportation option for workers — one that could be contracted at a reasonable rate with manufacturers.”

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