Opinion Piece: Five Ways We Can Help Small Manufacturers and Boost the Economy

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By Melissa Mangold

Wanted: Nimble-fingered industrial sewing operators with good work ethic. Training provided.

If all American corporations that off-shored manufacturing suddenly re-shored, the American economy would suffer from a massive labor shortage.

And to be perfectly honest, small businesses like mine already are.

I’m the CEO of Casco Manufacturing Solutions, a woman-owned manufacturing company located in the heart of Cincinnati. We’ll hire nearly anyone as an industrial sewing operator—legal immigrants, ex-felons, recovering addicts and alcoholics. But the drug and opioid crisis have depleted my work force.

We need help finding a reliable pool of industrial sewing operators who are motivated to come to work each day. Turnover in our skilled workforce of industrial sewing operators is high. The problem: absenteeism.

I’m a Roman Catholic who believes part of her calling with Casco is to provide jobs for those who need them. Casco has a solid book of orders, but in order to take on new orders, I have to schedule employees for overtime. 

My workforce reflects the face of America today. We have a fair number of employees from Guatemala and Mexico, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Our policy is that if you can speak and understand English and pass a drug test, you can have a job. (We need to be able to communicate for training instruction and safety reasons.)

Almost 30 percent of Cincinnatians live in poverty, which is twice the national poverty rate, according to CityLink Center, a citywide initiative which recognizes the need for integrated social services. Clearly, we’re falling short in motivating people to work and keep their jobs.

Here’s what Casco’s doing to attract people who need jobs:

* Promoting manufacturing as a great career, especially for hands-on learners.  Building a good work ethic in our community begins one job at a time, yet not everyone has the capacity, interest, or access to money to earn a college degree. We’re looking for a trade school or community college partner to work with local small businesses like mine to offer skilled-trade instruction.

* Collaborating with colleges and universities to steer graduates toward jobs at small businesses, too. Higher education tends to nudge students to apply for positions at large corporations, often ignoring small-and medium-sized businesses. Yet there is likely more opportunity and room to advance in a small business. At a small company, a young employee can really shine and make an impact.

* Providing bonuses to employees who refer friends for jobs. At Casco, we give employees a bonus when a referred friend is hired. Another bonus is given when the friend stays on the job for 90 days.

* Developing partnerships with social services agencies to provide small business jobs. Many small companies like mine take on the cost burden to train employees, but can’t afford to teach the life skills and work ethic needed to keep a job over time, especially for the addicted and homeless.

Once workers leave a halfway house like Talbert House, with whom we work, they often don’t have the support system to keep a job. Perhaps a longer stay or assignment of a coach to help them develop life skills would help.

* Supporting American Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), which bolsters our citizens and strengthens our country.  Foreign labor does affect us, because American competitors using overseas manufacturers can sell products more cheaply than those made in the U.S.A. With OEMs like us, we can work with smaller lots so customers can manage cash flow better and not get stuck with material they can’t sell.

Even if an American business pays minimum wage to employees, that’s nothing to sneeze at, especially since American companies pay FICA tax, Medicare, and state and federal taxes. We have to ask ourselves, what is right and just?

Chinese factory workers earn about 3,000 Renminbi, or about $463 per month, based on an 8-hour, six-day-a-week schedule, according to a Thayer Certified labor audit from March, 2018.  Plus, it’s estimated that living expenses are about half the cost of a Chinese factory worker’s average income. Here in the U.S., non-union factory workers in the non-durable goods manufacturing sector earn $3,320 per month, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. We have to find the right balance in order to allow American small businesses to grow and prosper and allow our workers to have a good quality of life.

I believe government, social services and business can win together, but we haven’t yet seriously discussed the most fair and ethical ways to make American small businesses truly successful. I’m glad we got the tax break. It should have been more. We have a lot of work to do to get more people to work so they take care of themselves and those they love.

Melissa Mangold is CEO of Casco Manufacturing Solutions, a 59-year-old certified, woman-owned company in Cincinnati. Casco specializes in cutting, sealing, and sewing OEM manufacturing – making top quality products for industry leaders in institutional, healthcare, outdoor and custom manufacturing markets.

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