It’s an investment.
For the City of Hillsboro, it’s an investment to assure industry will stay in Hillsboro and Marion County.
For Hillsboro Industries, it’s an investment to attract and retain quality workers.
For Butler Community College it’s an investment of equipment and instructors.
Investments take a while to pay off — sometimes years.
That’s OK. They’re in it for the long haul.
The “investment” is a program that offers welding classes in Hillsboro that will attract adults and students from not only Marion County, but the region.
On Sept. 10, a ceremonial signing of a grant from Kansas Department of Commerce by BCC President Dr. Jackie Vietti was a confirmation that the project was a reality.
At a Hillsboro City Council meeting in July, the city approved an investment of $40,000 to renovate the former AMPI building, now owned by the city, for the welding class. In return, BCC was awarded a $100,000 grant from the department of commerce and will pay the city $6,000 per year ($500 per month) in lease payments for the space.
So, how did all of this get started?
They say necessity is the mother of invention, and in some ways it held true in this case
Wyssenbach knows that in the coming years, if Hillsboro Industries expands, they will need more employees — particularly more welders.
“We have the opportunity to expand this company four to five times larger,” he said, which means 60 to 90 more employees during the next three to five years.
Wyssenbach said they looked at other options. They could pull workers from other areas such as Wichita, but they couldn’t afford Wichita’s aviation industry wages.
Most importantly, he knows there are quality workers in Marion County — long-term employees who take pride in their work.
“We want to hire people who are from this area and want to stay in this area,” Wyssenbach said.
The problem is and continues to be finding skilled laborers, particularly welders.
Hillsboro Industries is one of several manufacturers in Marion County who need skilled laborers. Want ads in local newspapers indicate the shortage.
In the meantime, Wyssenbach was asked to serve on the Kansas Work Force Investment Board for Area I which includes Marion County and western Kansas.
Through these meetings, Wyssenbach found that training and retraining funding assistance was possible, right here in Marion County.
The search began for a partnership and a building. Meetings were held with school superintendents from Marion and Hillsboro and Butler Community College.
The other benefit of this program, besides training and retraining quality employees, is offering vocational-technical training to high school students.
“Many schools don’t offer vo-tech type training. Some people don’t want to attend a four-year college,” he said.
The task was not simple. There were ups and downs before it finally came to fruition two years later.
The plan included training those interested in a welding career and re-training skilled workers who want to improve their skills.
Jim Edwards, BCC dean of career and technical education, wrote the grant.
As the momentum was peaking, the project was put on hold, Wyssenbach said, because the budget for the department of commerce had been cut.
Patience prevailed with the grant application finally being processed and once again the ball was rolling by mid-August.
Next came the decision for a location. Discussions with civic leaders led BCC to Hillsboro and the former AMPI building.
With the City of Hillsboro’s and Hillsboro Industries’ willingness to invest, the match was made.
During the next three years, nearly $600,000 will be invested in the project by the city, the department of commerce, Hillsboro Industries, and BCC administering the project and purchasing equipment.
“Our vision is for the community to see this as an asset in the region. This isn’t just a Hillsboro project,” Wyssenbach said.
Even though Hillsboro Industries is involved in the program, Wyssenbach said students who complete the program are not “tied” to work for any particular company. However, local and area companies will scout the program to find quality workers.
Is there a shortage of welders right now?
“A year ago we had a shortage but not now. The market is volatile during this election year,” Wyssenbach said, but expansion of his company in the next year or so will result in the need for more welders, fabricators, and other laborers.
It’s an investment. An investment that will pay off in the coming years with skilled workers for this area.