“For the manufacturing partnership we’ve created, we’re seeing the results of that,” Bailey said.
Several Champaign County companies announced expansions earlier this year. Most recently, Weidmann Electrical Technology Inc. said last month it will add about 2,600 square feet to its facility at 700 W. Court St. in Urbana. The company, which produces specialty insulation for transformers, will also add 20 new jobs and spend at least $500,000 in new equipment as part of an expansion valued at around $2.7 million.
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Navistar also broke ground on a roughly $12 million project to build a new distribution center and add 40 new jobs in Champaign County. Auto parts manufacturers like KTH Parts Industries in St. Paris and Parker Trutec also announced significant investments and expansions in the past 12 months.
Area companies and the CEP have developed several programs to boost the county’s workforce, Bailey said, and there is some evidence that’s paying off. But she said it’s also clear there’s still more work to do.
Attendance at a camp hosted by the Champaign Family YMCA has tripled its attendance since it started three years ago, Bailey said. The Inventor’s Camp enlists local manufacturing firms to teach students about skilled trades.
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Manufacturers also host a booth at the Champaign County Fair to make residents more aware of the products made in Champaign County. And the CEP worked with local companies to develop a website allowing local businesses to post jobs available within the county. Manufacturers have also increasingly sought to provide internships to area high school students to make them more aware of careers in the industry.
Information provided by the CEP shows that the efforts appear to be attracting more young workers. In 2015, only about 5 percent of workers in the industry in Champaign County were between 19 and 24 years old, Bailey said. That number was about 9 percent this year.
Still, attracting skilled workers remains a challenge, she said.
“There’s not a competitions for products,” she said of local companies. “But we need the workforce to get those products out.”
By the numbers:
3,832 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2015
3,725 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2016
4,029 — Manufacturing employees in Champaign County in 2017
$64,021 — Average earnings for manufacturing in 2017
Source: Champaign Economic Partnership