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People for jobs: Manufacturers seek workers for $423 million local industry

Graphic Packaging forklift operators move finished packages in the warehouse before shipping them out to customers Tuesday in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)

How important is manufacturing to Mitchell’s economy?

During the 2013 fiscal year — July 2012 through this past June — manufacturers in the city generated sales of about $423 million. That was 28 percent, or nearly one-third, of Mitchell’s total sales economy during those 12 months.

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“That’s what’s driving our economy,” said Bryan Hisel, executive director of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mitchell Area Development Corp.

Only retail sales contributed a bigger chunk, 46 percent.

Another sign of manufacturing’s impact is its total annual payroll of about $110 million from the 20 or so manufacturing businesses in the Mitchell area.

To recognize that impact, members of the Mitchell Area Manufacturing Association will celebrate Manufacturing Week with open houses from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Enertech Manufacturing, Toshiba America, Graphic Packaging, Trail King Industries, Hendrickson Manufacturing and Twin City Fan.

According to a Manufacturing Week proclamation by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, manufacturing jobs in South Dakota had a total payroll of $1.7 billion in 2012, providing an average annual wage of $42,176. Annually, manufacturing businesses collect $42 million in sales and use taxes for the state.

Today’s tours are not only an opportunity to show the public what many manufacturing businesses do, but also a way to show young people that manufacturing isn’t just hard labor, Hisel said.

“Manufacturing isn’t what people think it is anymore,” he said. “It is computer-based, it’s operating equipment. So math skills are needed. It’s more precision-based and quality-based and has great clean areas.”

People for jobs

Despite the Great Recession and impending loss of baby-boomers to retirement, the manufacturing sector in Mitchell is doing well, Hisel said.

The recent apartment construction boom in Mitchell, an effort to get young people interested in manufacturing jobs and the promotion of current jobs available have made manufacturing companies more confident in Mitchell.

“There are several key things going on,” Hisel said. “For example, Trail King is at its highest employment levels ever. With the recovery complete last year, now expansion is going on in many of our companies.”

Recently, many local manufacturers set up at a career expo at the Davison County Fairgrounds, which 1,800 area students attended. The expo emphasized technical training and how manufacturing careers in South Dakota are abundant and important.

That, coupled with the Mitchell School District’s renewed focus on career and technical education, could help complete a long-range goal of keeping young people here or drawing students back to South Dakota. There are currently more manufacturing jobs in Mitchell than available workers to fill them, Hisel said.

“We can show students there are career paths that can happen right here if they want it,” Hisel said. “There are very good job opportunities in manufacturing and the trades. They don’t have to go to Omaha or Minneapolis to get a good job.”

The short-term goal is to promote the jobs available to those who need jobs. In the long term, it’ll be important to grow the population base of the community and region.

The housing boom that began last year has spurred manufacturers to expand businesses. About 600 new apartment units are either under construction or planned in Mitchell.

“It has given employers confidence that the Mitchell community and private investors will respond to the needs for housing,” Hisel said. “Now they’re planning expansions for Mitchell rather than another community.”


Although more housing is being built, manufacturers still find it difficult to attract workers.

Jim Dice, plant manager at Graphic Packaging, said attracting workers is always a challenge, especially in this region.

“Typically in this industry, our workers come from outside the state,” he said.

Employees at Graphic Packaging are required to have sophisticated training for jobs that include using robots and electronic systems.

Dice said Mitchell has become more open to attracting people from outside the state.

“We’d obviously like to home-grow folks,” he said. “But it’s hard to find that technical skill.”

Many manufacturing workers are also aging, which Dice said the company watches carefully. In five to 10 years, the company will need to replace many baby boomers.

Trail King also works to attract people locally or statewide, but struggles to find employees who want to make manufacturing their career. Baby boomers are retiring and Trail King is working to replace that workforce.

“We’re going to the schools, career fairs, we’re having an open house,” said Ed Thompson, director of manufacturing. “We’re pretty much opening our doors for everyone to see what we do.”

Thompson said Trail King has had more success in hiring local and area employees after teaming up with Mitchell Technical Institute and its welding manufacturing technology program.

Thompson said the company has made a push to show potential employees manufacturing isn’t what it once was. Trail King, for example, has hands-on positions like welding, painting and assembling, but also has automated positions like machine operating. Many positions don’t require a specific degree.

“There’s a lot of advanced opportunities in manufacturing. It opens a lot of doors for people,” he said. “On-the-job learning can help you advance.”