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Sturgis grows its work force

(KOTA)
Published: May. 27, 2016 at 1:54 PM CDT
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This may seem counter intuitive but the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation would much rather have several small manufacturing companies put down roots in the town than a major company.

“Because truthfully, our area is not able to handle a company that would need 500 employees unless they’re able to bring them with them,” SEDC president Pat Kurtenbach admitted.

“We just don’t have the population base to support that; nor do we have the unemployment numbers to support that,” Kurtenbach added.

The ideal companies to recruit for the Sturgis Industrial Park would generate five to 20 jobs each.

With only about 880 machinist jobs in the state (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), there isn’t a large pool of workers to draw from. So Sturgis is growing its own work force, right out of high school.

With federal and state grants, SEDC and Sturgis Brown High School started a machine tool technology incubator in the town’s industrial park. It is sponsored by eight industrial park manufacturers -- a mixture of firearms, motorcycle and agriculture companies that desperately need machinists.

“Here in the industrial park, we are able to train our own future work force in basic machine tool technology to get them a faster start into the work force once they graduate from high school,” Kurtenbach said.

One of the machinists in training is high school junior James Karrels.

“I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit (machining career) but I’m not sure yet. Machining intrigues me; what I want to do because it is hands on. It’s just a fun environment to be in,” Karrels said.

Karrels also knows the value of a machinist education. The average machinist salary in South Dakota is $37,220; nationwide that average climbs to $42,110.

“There’s a lot of jobs that you can make quite a bit (of money). You can make all kinds of stuff … demand is high right now,” Karrels said.

There is no guarantee that the entire 22-student class Karrels is a part of will land machinists jobs … or even go into the field.

“Most of them only have one semester so I’m not trying to make machinists out of them,” manufacturing instructor Cyle Miller said. “What I’m really trying to do is expose them to the opportunities that are out there in manufacturing.”

Nationwide, there are 477,500 machinist jobs; with an estimated job growth rate of 6 percent or 29,000 jobs now through 2024.

Even if incubator students opt out of manufacturing, the time spent building small air engines is time well spent.

“The other thing I’m really trying to help them understand is that no matter how big a problem is … if you break it down into small enough pieces … and you do the best job you can with each one of those pieces … when you reassemble that problem you end up with something that’s much more valuable than the sum of its parts,” Miller explained.

There are plans to even grow the incubator.

“We’re happy with what we’ve done but these are baby steps,” Kurtenbach said. “What we need to do now is figure out how to grow it. And I think the way to grow it is to get other communities involved so other school districts can come and benefit from the machine tool program here in Sturgis; not only the kids but adults. Maybe the adults who want to retrain, re-career, we can offer the same type of program to them.”