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Study: Wisconisn Ready to Hire

Study: Wisconisn Ready to Hire

By Mike Conroy. CREATED May 31, 2012

WISCONSIN-Nearly two-thirds of employers, many of them manufacturing companies, plan to hire people in the next six months, a new survey from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce shows.

The 62% who said they plan to add employees is up from 53% a year ago and 44% last December, according to the survey of 182 companies.

Fifty-seven percent said they were having trouble hiring people, with most of those companies blaming it on a lack of qualified applicants.

"Most of the unemployed coming through our door don't have the skills to get into the jobs we have available," Mark Tyler, president of OEM Fabricators Inc., said in an interview.

"If there was one issue I would say is the most pressing to help drive the economy, it's the skills gap," said Tyler, whose Woodville-based company makes components for mining, railroad, energy and other industries.

The survey, done annually since 1997 by the state business lobby, shows that more than half of the companies planned to expand in Wisconsin in the next 24 months - the highest rate in 10 years.

OEM Fabricators had a 75% sales increase in 2011 and expects similar growth this year.

"Even throttled back, we would be looking at 25% to 30% revenue growth," Tyler said.

The company, with 480 employees, plans to hire another 100 people in the next three years.

A year ago, it held a mock "funeral for the recession," which publicly proclaimed an end to hard times.

"Our customers are pushing us to take on more work, which is good. Everything in our portfolio has been strong with the exception of construction equipment - and we are starting to see some signs of life there as well," Tyler said.

The possibility of an economic slowdown, higher taxes and health care costs were among the concerns voiced in the survey of company executives.

Ron Loos, owner of Quality Tool & Die, said his health-insurance premium recently took a big jump for him and his wife - in addition to rising company health care costs.

"It really is sickening. It can put the brakes on everything we do," Loos said.

Still, his West Allis-based business has done well in recent months, with Loos and his employees working six and sometimes seven days a week.

"I hope it stays like this or gets better," he said.

It's not just blue-collar positions that manufacturers are trying to fill, although they represent much of the skills gap.

KLH Industries in Germantown has spent nearly two years seeking a projects estimator who can give price quotes on work in the aerospace, medical and energy industries. It's been hard to find the right person, said Matthew Stefanski, sales manager for the machining company that makes components for a variety of products, including medical devices and rockets.

Last fall KLH purchased a second building and new equipment to boost production.

"We are constantly looking for help. But we are not a revolving door," Stefanski said.

Ariens Co. in Brillion plans to hire salaried and hourly employees as business improves and the outdoor power equipment maker gains market share. It has about 1,800 employees, including 1,100 in Wisconsin.

Ariens aims to fill executive, engineering and manufacturing positions in addition to seasonal jobs.

"It's a pattern we have had for about three years," said company president and CEO Dan Ariens.

Fifty-seven percent of the surveyed companies said they expect moderate growth in the business climate in the next six months, while 16% expect good growth and 25% expect the climate to remain flat.

Fifty-three percent said they planned to raise the amount that employees pay toward health care costs, while 25% said they would decrease health care benefits. No one said they would increase benefits.

Thirty-four percent said they planned pay raises up to 2% this year, while 62% planned raises of 2.1% to 3.5%.

Some of the survey focused on Wisconsin's regulations and state government.

"This legislative session we were able to get some major reforms in what we call the holy trinity of taxes, litigation and regulations," said Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Sixty-nine percent of the companies said they expect moderate growth in the state's economy in the next six months, while 5% expect good growth and 25% expect the economy to remain flat.

Many companies sell most of their products outside of Wisconsin.

The Wagner Cos. in Milwaukee has seen weakness in sales of products such as hand railings and light fixtures for commercial buildings. But some of that business is on the mend as the U.S. construction industry recovers from the recession.

International sales also have been strong, said company chairman and CEO Bob Wagner.

With 160 employees, Wagner Cos. has hired nine people this spring. That's in addition to having its staff work a lot of overtime hours.

"It's a good sign of pressure on us to produce," Wagner said.