Gregory Fritz, left, president of Brainerd Industries, shows Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, around his Precision Court production facility last week. THOMAS GNAU/STAFF
Photo: Thomas Gnau
Photo: Thomas Gnau

How do Dayton companies find skilled workers? By training them 

Fifty-year-old Brainerd is a manufacturer serving manufacturers. The company makes component parts and printed decorative metal trims — metal tags, badges and parts — for a variety of industries. Fritz counts automotive, durable goods and other original equipment manufacturers among his customers.

He and his 25 employees specialize in silk-screening, powder-coating and painting, die-cutting and stamping.

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As such, Fritz agrees that he and his company have a thumb on the pulse of the economy. Inquiries for work remain strong, he said.

”It’s going fine,” he said of overall business. “There are different cycles for whatever niche you’re in. I think that (talk of a recession) is maybe a little overhyped.”

But there is one constant that doesn’t seem to go away: The challenge of finding qualified workers.

“You can’t hire anybody,” he said. “People aren’t losing jobs. In fact, that number continues to trend in a very good direction.”

It’s not just finding people. It’s finding people with solid technical skills or at least solid technical aptitude, he said.

If Fritz could hire the right people today, he estimated he could fill five to 10 positions immediately. His company has invested some $1 million in equipment recently.

“We’ve got basically a whole new powder-coating line,” he said.

Fritz isn’t alone. When members of the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association (DRMA) share their most pressing concerns in an annual survey, this particular worry rises to the top.

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“That has been the No. 1 issue for seven years — the lack of a skilled workforce,” said Angelia Erbaugh, president of DRMA.

Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, visited Brainerd Industries last week to talk about that very subject. Representatives of companies like Evenflo, French Oil Machinery and organizations such as DRMA and the Dayton Development Coalition were also on hand.

Helping manufacturers find the best workers is no small problem, Portman said. For a healthy middle class, those jobs are crucial. He cited data that says some 8 million men have dropped out of the labor force.

“To make ultimately an economy work, you have to make something,” Portman said.

According to Federal Reserve economic data, the civilian labor force participation rate for men has fallen from 79.1 percent in late 1973 10 points to 69.1 percent in September 2019.

Sometimes men are in school longer or retire earlier compared to earlier eras, some economists have said. But declining economic opportunities for those with lower levels of education have also played a role.

American manufacturers enjoy certain inherent advantages, among them quality and location, according to roundtable participants at Brainerd. “Most of the markets are here for these products said,” Portman said. “You don’t have to take it across the Pacific Ocean.”

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“You have to train your own (employees) basically,” Fritz said.

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