Workforce wanted: Businesses say an area's workforce is a top priority when looking to move or expand

Sunday, September 30, 2012
Skyler Liley, left, of Marble Hill, Mo., works a lesson in motor controls in a factory setting with instructor Tim Mayfield in the electrical trades class Friday at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. (Fred Lynch)

When it comes to choosing where to move or expand a business, companies consistently rank workforce as one their top three considerations.

A 2011 survey of corporate site selectors by Area Development magazine, ranked highway accessibility as the No. 1 factor in choosing a location, but labor costs and availability of skilled labor were in a two-way tie for No. 2.

Workforce ranked higher in this survey than tax rates, construction costs, state or local incentives, energy costs, tax exemptions and whether a state was a right-to-work state.

The availability of a capable skilled workforce was more important to companies than environmental regulations, available buildings, available land, airport access, railroad service or waterway access, the survey of the magazine's 45,000 corporate site selection and relocation subscribers showed.

Over the past several decades years, low-skill manufacturing jobs gradually moved out of the U.S. as companies found lower-cost sources of labor first in Mexico and then in China, said Christopher Chung, CEO of the Missouri Partnership, a statewide business recruitment organization supported with public and private funds.

When site selectors have filtered their potential sites based on geographic considerations such as proximity to transportation, suppliers or markets, then they begin looking for communities and real estate that will fit the bill. Workforce is next on their list, Chung said.

"Once they get past that initial stage, then they're going to start drilling down into questions of the workforce they would be able to hire and keep at the potential location," he said.

There's no secret sauce to cooking up the right workforce because each company's needs vary, he said.

Warehouse and distribution operations, for example, require workers with fewer skills, but high-end manufacturing companies in the automotive or IT sectors expect a higher level of both education and skills.

"It's very tough to generalize what companies typically need. Every company will say yes, our workforce matters, but how much it matters is in the calculous of their decision depends on each project and each company," Chung said.

Tim Arbeiter, vice president for community development at the Cape Girardeau Area Chamber of Commerce, said that when companies considering Cape Girardeau contact the chamber, workforce is always in their top five considerations.

"They ask about workforce strength, workforce availability, and ability to find workers with solid productivity, willingness to work as a team and willingness to be trained to do different things down the road," he said.

The chamber's efforts to keep the area's workforce current include advocating for training, grants and tax incentives to allow businesses to keep training their employees.

"We advocate heavily in that realm to make sure it's a top priority for the state," Arbeiter said.

Several area companies have benefited from the Missouri Department of Economic Development's Customized Training Grant Program, including TG Missouri and Sabreliner Corp., both in Perryville, Sikeston's Tetra Pak plant, and Nordenia in Jackson.

Much of this grant-funded training and other local workforce training programs are conducted at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center through the SEMO Regional Industrial Training Group.

Coordinated by the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center and Mineral Area College, the group includes more than 20 companies that send employees to various training programs throughout the year at the center.

The Training Group is funded in part by Customized Training Grants and the participating businesses.

Among students enrolled at the center, about half are adults continuing their education beyond high school, said Dean Whitlow, assistant director of the center. Some are even co-enrolled with high school students in some programs.

"The culture has shifted. I have 60-plus adults right now that are commingled with high school students in our nine-month technical programs," Whitlow said.

More than 500 high school students are enrolled at the center.

Most of the center's adult-only programs are healthcare-related, he said, but the school's focus is still getting workers ready for industry.

"Because of the way we are funded, we serve the high school students first, and it does limit the number of adults who can come in," Whitlow said. "For some of our programs, the high school students just come in and flood them, which is awesome, but at the same time, we seem to have more adults we have to turn away."

In response to this, the center recently began offering more welding courses at night for adults who couldn't get off the wait list, Whitlow said.

The center, through a partnership with Mineral Area College, also recently began offering electrical trades and heating and cooling courses at night to help adults who had been unable to enroll previously because the courses were full with high school students.

When companies are looking at Cape Girardeau, they often tour the center and talk to staff there about the training available, Whitlow said.

Site selectors will also talk with other human resources managers at similar manufacturing facilities to get a grasp of the local workforce, Arbeiter said.

It's hard to quantify the types of workforce skills communities have that employers value, Chung said.

The Missouri Division of Workforce Development recently launched a new Certified Work-Ready Communities program counties can use to measure those skill sets.

Missouri was chosen to be one of a handful of states in the nation to implement this program, and Arbeiter said Cape Girardeau County is considering taking part. Other states are Oregon, Wyoming, Utah, Kentucky, Virginia and South Carolina.

"It's a good program that is going to help Missouri document the actual quality of its workforce relative to what's available in other states," Chung said.

Participating communities will use the National Career Readiness Certificate developed by ACT, the same company known for its college entrance exams, to measure and certify essential skills for workplace success.

The chamber's education committee is researching what will be required for Cape Girardeau County to participate in the Work-Ready Communities program, Arbeiter said.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

1267 N. Mount Auburn Road, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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