Manufacturing growth both in Portage and throughout the state has outpaced national numbers and while the regional economy stands to benefit from additional employment, representatives of companies in the city note that finding workers continues to be a challenge.
During a recent report to Portage Common Council members, Director of Business Development & Planning Steve Sobiek said the city should have a promising outlook in its manufacturing sector.
“Our manufacturing continues to be incredibly strong,” Sobiek said. “If you look at a chart of the growth of manufacturing in Portage alone, it’s a very high, steep climb that’s going straight up.”
While the nationwide trend is going down, he said, Portage has a “much healthier” manufacturing market, mostly in line with Wisconsin’s growth numbers.
“I think that bodes well as long as we can continue to get skilled workers,” Sobiek said.
Laura Hamdan-Krause, recruiter for Associated Milk Producers Inc. of Portage, said finding those skilled workers is vital to continuing the upward trend.
“It’s important to be attractive in this job market,” Hamdan-Krause said. “We are in need of people currently.”
According to the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity, manufacturing employment in Wisconsin has remained in line with national figures since at least 2012.
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development noted in October that the state had the second-highest amount of manufacturing jobs added over a year. Wisconsin added nearly 23,000 manufacturing jobs between September 2017 and September 2018.
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AMPI on Brooks Street in Portage employs 349 people when fully staffed, she added. However, the business is currently looking for 15 to 19 full-time employees. The facility processes large cheese blocks, turning raw product into smaller varieties for use by commercial restaurants, like shredded cheese for pizzas.
While employment needs fluctuate for the company, Hamdan-Krause said the challenge has been “to get out there” and find people adequately skilled for the work.
Steve Gilbertson, president of Loggerhead Deco on LaDawn Drive in Portage, said part of the problem in finding employees is due to work ethic.
“Some people just don’t want to work,” Gilbertson said.
Loggerhead Deco employs workers to mass-produce decorated glass bottles, primarily ones used to hold liquor. In 2016, Gilbertson shifted the business from Illinois and moved into the Portage Daily Register building in the city’s industrial area.
Young people aren’t really informed of their options either, Gilbertson added. A reduction in specialty classes like technical education means fewer teens are able to be hands-on, he said.
“It was really difficult to find some of the type of people we’ve been looking for,” Gilbertson said, adding that in slightly more than a year finding workers has become easier.
Gilbertson said he has been an advocate for partnerships with local groups while serving on various committees to ensure the number of skilled laborers increases. He said the city of Portage has also been accommodating to the business’ needs.