WILMINGTON — The message from two of Wilmington’s largest employers came through loud and clear Friday: It’s a challenge for them to find people for their open positions.
The recurring theme came at an economic roundtable organized by U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers, and which was hosted by the Clinton County Port Authority at the Wilmington Air Park.
Gus Delucia, who works in management for Ahresty, said, “This is the picture of our operation. Right now we have 100 positions open.”
Fadi Al-Ghawi, who also works in management at Ahresty, said the plant is “struggling” to land people for the available jobs, even though the company has made changes to pay, attendance policy and more.
In fact, Delucia said he was brought in about seven months ago to help with the lack of a workforce problem.
He mentioned several things that have been tried.
The company brought in de-commissioned machinery — functional for training — in an effort to have new workers be more trained so that when they go to the actual production floor in their second week, they can have the basics down and be more comfortable.
Another initiative there involves a part-time worker program in conjunction with Great Oaks. The student-workers work three four-hour days at Ahresty. The hope, said Delucia, is that when they graduate they’ll want to stay at Ahresty.
“So we’re growing even a part-time workforce, which is very new for us,” he said.
Ahresty also is trying to tap into a population segment not always pursued by employers; they’re trying to bring stay-at-home moms and dads into the workforce as well.
They are seeking every opportunity to build their workforce, Delucia reiterated.
Al-Ghawi added there are five agencies helping recruit workers for the company.
After referring to how ABX Air used to bus workers to Wilmington, Al-Ghawi said, “We thought about that actually — about busing people to bring them in to do a job.”
Indeed, transportation is a contributing factor to the workforce problem, according to both Delucia and Al-Ghawi. When a family has only one vehicle and the vehicle breaks down, “everything breaks,” said Delucia.
And Al-Ghawi said a lot of Ahresty associates ride the City of Wilmington taxi service, but its hours are limited whereas Ahresty operates around the clock.
After noting the company has made changes and put together initiatives to address the workforce issue, Al-Ghawi said they are “running out of options.”
Delucia, in response to a question, said drug abuse is not a significant problem for the company. Ahresty Wilmington Corp. employs more than 900 people.
Tim Holland with Alkermes said currently the pharmaceutical company has 40 positions open. Plans are to add another 50 positions by the end of 2019, he said.
Another large Wilmington employer, Airborne Maintenance & Engineering Services (AMES), was unable to attend the economic roundtable as it had planned. However, this month at a Wilmington Rotary Club meeting the AMES’ Human Resources director said the company needs 150 employees.
Kyle Darton, with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration in Chicago, attended the roundtable. Workforce development is one thing the agency does, he said. Typically, a project involves a partnership between a local entity such as a nonprofit or regional college and a cluster of local businesses within a similar industry.
The agency won’t do a workforce development project with just one company, he said.
The agency does grants, which involve a local match.
Clinton County is eligible for these programs, Darton said, “based on the [economic] distress that’s in the region,” which is based on per-capita income.
Clinton County Port Authority Executive Director Dan Evers told Darton there are “maybe a couple tracks we can pursue with you.”
At the end of the roundtable, Evers said the Wilmington Air Park presently has 12 employers, “a number we expect to increase by a couple, hopefully soon.”
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.