KTH employees inspect the parts as they roll off the new servo press. Bill Lackey/Staff

Urbana manufacturing firms see $80M in investment

Champaign County manufacturing firms invested more than $80 million and added slightly more than 100 new jobs through expansions this year, economic development officials said last week.

The number of workers employed in the industry in Champaign County has fluctuated in recent years, according to information from the Champaign Economic Partnership. But local economic development officials said there are signs that efforts to attract younger workers and improve the workforce are paying off.

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The CEP hosted a breakfast and awards ceremony last week to review recent successes and recognize manufacturing firms for their efforts in Champaign County. So far this year, local firms have invested more than $80 million and added more than 100 new jobs, mostly through expansions, said Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the CEP.

Much of that success is the result of local companies working together to resolve common challenges, like training and worker retention, she said.

“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.”

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