Committee resolves to fill regional shortfall of qualified workers

By STEVE TARTER
Journal Star
Posted Sep 11, 2012 @ 09:25 PM

PEORIA — Before you can attract more work, you need an available work force.
That’s what the Regional Economic Development Steering Committee decided at Tuesday’s in Downtown Peoria.

In the early stages of formulating an economic development program for the area, the committee passed a resolution “to resolve our regional work force shortfall.”

“There are jobs out there we can’t fill,” said subcommittee member Diana Hall, in making her “sense of urgency” report.

The need to develop and attract highly skilled workers to the area has been sounded before. The issue has been raised by Doug Parsons, CEO of Pekin’s Excel Foundry and Machine and a member of the subcommittee. “If we don’t fix this, the jobs are gone,” he said.

Earlier this year, Excel, a company that makes heavy-duty mining parts, announced plans for a $15 million expansion that will add 100 additional employees. But Parsons said his company has had a hard time finding enough skilled employees to operate the machinery that produces those parts.

“The issue of developing a highly skilled work force is something we need to do a better job at,” he said.
“I’m leaving for Copenhagen today and the sense of urgency is real,” said Parsons, referring to his visit to the headquarters of FLSmidth, the Danish firm that bought the Pekin firm in 2006.

“They can’t understand why it’s taking so long to fill the jobs we have open.”

With further expansion by the company, that concern is likely to grow if the employment situation isn’t tackled, said Parsons.

Subcommittee chairman Jim Baumgartner said the group’s first priority was the jobs issue, with action plans to follow.

“The initial focus has to be on work force and 400 jobs that are going unfilled,” he said.

Consultant Frank Knott, referring to a recent Time magazine story about a resurgence in U.S.manufacturing, said it was significant that a national publication would suggest that “building a work force base is more important than spending millions to attract business.”

Peoria City Manager Patrick Urich said another factor in promoting job growth is the fact that “the Peoria area is the largest metro area in the state without a full-range state school.”

In other business, Andre Williams presented a quality of place report with his committee. Some of the area’s assets include convenience in getting around and that “it’s a great place to raise a family.”

Baumgartner cited the importance of the recent appointment to the steering committee of Mark Spenny, chairman of Heartland Partnership, the umbrella group that includes the Economic Development Council for Central Illinois, as “Heartland Partnership reinvents itself.”

“Economic development needs to flourish while this project goes on. This (effort) isn’t a quick fix. It will probably take 18 months or longer,” he said.

The steering committee will hold a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Folepi Building in East Peoria to start the “discovery phase” of the regional economic development strategy.

Educators to address work force issues

– The Economic Development Council for Central Illinois’ Specialized Manufacturing Strategy Group will host an Educator’s Day event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday at Morton High School.

The program is designed to reach out to regional educators with information on the greater Peoria area’s work force shortage in the manufacturing industry.

– The event also will highlight the upcoming Discover Manufacturing Career Expo on Oct. 24. Last year’s expo drew 725 students from 19 high schools.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com. Follow his blog, Minding Business, on pjstar.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveTarter.

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