If you were to ask a manufacturer to tell you its biggest challenges, the search for skilled talent would likely land among its top three answers.
Michigan has worked hard to reclaim its spot among the top states for both manufacturing output and employment. As part of its efforts, the state listened to the employment struggles of industry leaders. It responded by establishing a workforce funding program that assists employers in training, developing, and retaining their current and yet-to-be-hired employees.
Christened the Going PRO Talent Fund (formerly known as the Skilled Trades Training Fund), the program is delivered through collaboration amongst economic development partners, Michigan Works! Agencies, and educational providers. More than 2,200 companies have received awards averaging $32,068 between 2014 and 2018. In what will be a record-setting year for Southwest Michigan recipients, 81 local companies are in line to receive $3.7 million in training grants in 2019.
Eimo Technologies, Inc. in Vicksburg is one of them. Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the progressive plastic injection molding company has grown to an employment count exceeding 300 across three facilities. Consumers commonly experience Eimo’s products when operating the touch screen on Whirlpool appliances, admiring the dashboard of a Toyota Camry, or shining the bow tie emblem on the grille of their Chevy Silverado.
CEO Gary Hallam explained that Eimo’s in-house tooling and technology center is one of its competitive niches. “It differentiates us and makes us more efficient,” he said.
Human Resources Manager Brenda Harrington described how Eimo will use its allocated training funds. “Our quality leaders will take the second part of a front-line leadership coaching program,” she said. “There will also be technical training on robotics, on-the-job training for new operators, and two mold-making apprenticeships.”
The company also develops skilled talent by deploying current employees to educational institutions around the region. “Our tooling supervisor, Jim Williams, provides machining instruction at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in the evenings,” Hallam said. “We’ve donated an injection mold press to Vicksburg High School and work with area high schools, sharing information about manufacturing career possibilities.” The company has also hosted an interactive booth at MiCareerQuest Southwest, a hands-on career readiness event for middle school students in Kalamazoo, Calhoun, and Cass counties.
Eimo is a multi-year beneficiary of the Going PRO program, and Harrington believes that adhering to the paperwork has helped make that possible. “Also, we’ve had a good story to tell,” she said. “We’ve grown, added equipment, and done training for scientific injection molding. The funding allowed us to do things we wouldn’t have done.”
She recommends that interested companies attend a Michigan Works! information session for advice and support prior to the release of the grant application. The next grant round is expected this fall.
Interested in a career at a company that invests in keeping skills fresh? Check out jobs at Eimo by going to eimotech.com/careers/.
Economic Development in Action
Dealing Eimo a Good Hand
Regional economic development catalyst Southwest Michigan First has kept job creation opportunities in the cards through the years by building an ongoing relationship with Eimo and connecting the company with numerous resources.
During one-on-one consultations with company leaders, representatives of the economic development group shared information regarding supplier connections, Personal Property Tax Reform, and Industrial Facilities Tax abatements. Armed with knowledge from these trusted advisors, Eimo has been able to minimize tax outlays during site expansions. By doing so, it has been able to create more jobs than it would have otherwise been able to.
Additionally, Eimo has taken advantage of services that are part of Southwest Michigan First’s expanded menu of offerings. Eimo employees have attended safety updates from the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration, day-long leadership training at the flagship Catalyst University, tailored sessions on how to apply for Going PRO grants, and more.
With the overall goal to assist in the retention and growth of jobs, the partnership between Southwest Michigan First and Eimo has paid off in spades. Over the past five years, the company has created over 120 new jobs and invested $9.7 million in the local community.