Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 18, 2018

Skilled workers, housing needed to fill jobs created by industrial expansion in MP

Jul 27, 2017

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News


Build it and they will come.

But will they have the skills needed to perform the requirements of the job and will they have a place to hang their hat after hours?

Those are two of the significant questions facing Mt. Pleasant industrial employers now and in the future.

Four Mt. Pleasant manufacturers — Innovairre, Hearth & Home Technologies, Lomont Molding LLC and Continental ContiTech — announced expansion plans in the last year. All hope to add workers, varying from 20 to 100, to fill the needs created by expansion.

Currently, about 60 percent of Mt. Pleasant’s workforce commute, some from as far away as Iowa City, Ottumwa, eastern Illinois and northern Missouri, according to Mt. Pleasant City Administrator Brent Schleisman.

“Some industries are looking for people who will show up and they will be trained by the industry,” said Mt. Pleasant Mayor Steve Brimhall. “A lot of times the manufacturer just needs a dependable person and it can train the person.”

Schleisman and Brimhall said the goal is to get these workers to live in Mt. Pleasant rather than commute. “Part of the challenge is getting people to Mt. Pleasant,” Schleisman said. “People don’t like to drive 30 to 40 miles one way to work.”

Brimhall said that some of those workers view Mt. Pleasant as being too large while others say the community is too small.

“We’re trying to entice people to move to Mt. Pleasant by scheduling community activities, good infrastructure and amenities,” Schleisman said.

Innovairre has been looking for 100 new employees since late last year. The quota is not close to being filled, company officials said. “It is always a challenge finding skilled workers,” remarked Bill Tallent, Innovairee company manager, last spring. “There is low unemployment here, it is a small community and we are looking for people with skills and experience.”

Candace Becker, Innovairre’s human relations manager, said residents from three states (Iowa, Illinois and Missouri) are employed by the Mt. Pleasant plant as well as workers commuting from Iowa City and Burlington.

David File, a former president and now a member of the Mt. Pleasant Area Development Commission, said the state has stepped in to help develop programs at community colleges to train workers needed for today’s technological-driven employment. “Iowa Wesleyan also has moved into fields like nursing, accounting and business in education as baccalaureate degrees.”

He said the Stronger Economies Together (SET), a joint project of the Mt. Pleasant, Fairfield and Washington economic development agencies, also is helping. “Schools don’t have funding for behavioral and career counseling. But thanks to a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we are working with high schools to develop career counseling to fill those needs.”

Expanding on the career counseling at the high school, Kristi Ray, executive vice president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance, said a position has been filled by that USDA grant whereby an educator is visiting area schools to learn what the schools are doing to prepare students for manufacturing jobs. “She will work with any school that wants help in developing a work initiative curriculum.

“Finding workers is always a challenge,” Ray continued. “We have to change the mindset of students and parents that manufacturing is a good career and pays well.”

Matt Lowery of the Lomont Molding LLC Human Resources department, said Lomont is “In pretty decent shape” when it comes to finding workers. “Sure, it can be a challenge and we struggle at times, but we don’t need the people with the skills that some of the other large employers need. For the most part, a lot of the workers we hire are local. A large number of our employees live within a 15-mile radius of Mt. Pleasant.”

Expansion, however, may change that, Lowery said. “Now that we are expanding, the challenge to find workers may be greater.”

Housing, locally, can be an issue not only for factory workers but for other newcomers as well. In 2014, the Chamber Alliance conducted a housing study which local officials said already is paying benefits.

“Some duplexes are being built (in Mt. Pleasant),” noted Brimhall. “Everybody thinks they’re being built too fast, but we don’t think so.”

Schleisman said there “is a lot in the hopper right now,” commenting that the city is receiving a lot of inquiries regarding the building of housing. He said there are available lots and several subdivisions have lots available. “We have more (vacant) lots than a lot of towns of similar size.”

The city administrator said citizens will see some “housing incentives pop up in the near future. I don’t know to what degree but there is a lot of discussion taking place.”

Currently, developers are building a 24-unit apartment complex in Linden Heights, that will contain one-, two- and three-bedroom units.

Admitting that housing is very critical, File said success comes from offering the right menu — the right size, the right price and appealing to young people.

“You will see housing stock evolving,” File stated. “Young people don’t want the two-story, century-old house. It isn’t a “build and they will come” scenario. There is not a lot of speculative housing built. Not too many contractors and real estate professionals will build on potential.”

Available housing is not one of Ray’s concerns. “The housing survey in 2014 showed we can’t grow without housing. It opened a lot of people’s eyes. We have several people working on development projects. I feel pretty good about housing.”

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