Help wanted: manufacturers

Eugene mayor speaks at career expo 

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, a cramped basement room at the LCC campus was visited by Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis. Surrounding her were not only flashy robotic arms and heavy-duty production equipment but there were also a handful of local manufacturing professionals and recruiters. 

The reason for the gathering was seemingly simple: help convince unsure students that joining the manufacturing, engineering or factory labor market is a choice career move. With the energy, incentives, modern technology, and the mayor eagerly promoting the programs, one would think this was a sure success.

However, it is not as easy as it looks. The ASME — American Society of Mechanical Engineers — and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers programs, which have lived a tenuous 25 years in Eugene, have struggled with recruitment. They’ve already got the market cornered on state-of-the-art technology, equipment, facilities, and even workers rights and benefits — all that’s left is populating these buildings. Their current, greatest challenge: the turnover rate. “Boomers are falling out left and right,” said worried SME board member Glen Bjurling, “and where are all of our replacements?” 

Mayor Vinis delivered a speech in service of these new goals and challenges. Between the shiny, gyrating metal arms and massive, sleek 3-D printers, the mayor spoke in support of the program. 

“We have not served our children well,” she said. “We have had three generations of kids that have not been encouraged or introduced to good factory jobs. These are lucrative, moveable jobs that teach transferable skills, all we need are people to want them.”

It was not always the case that Lane was in such dire straits for eligible workers. In the early 1970s the Lane County area was rife with wood manufacturers. When the era changed from wood products to mainly plastic or metals in the late 1970s, a new face of industry emerged: the “dirty metal polluters,” as one SME board member put it. 

In order to dodge environmental, labor and local laws that prohibited some of the dirty tricks that had become a common, crucial characteristic of early manufacturers, companies just sent their businesses elsewhere. In the span of 30 years, the Lane manufacturing economy had hit a slump. Scant few wanted to work in places that were not clean, moral, sustainable, or safe. 

When the ASME and SME programs were born, they took all this into careful consideration. Factories needed to offer more to the community in which they lived. They needed to meet the demands of the city and the people. 

With strict guidance from the local governments and willingness to meet these demands, local and large manufacturers have since cleaned up their act. They are reportedly more safe and clean than their predecessors; run-off, carbon footprint, visual, air and groundwater as well as landfill pollution have all been addressed and managed since the 70s. 

Regulations such as the Good Citizens Act, State and Federal Right To Know, the EPA and local liability ensure they behave. 

By endorsing and investing in these programs, Mayor Vinis believes the prospective candidates will be incentivized to replace outgoing workers. With more money behind vocational outreach, education, training and internship offers, the slow climb to repopulating the local factories will be hastened. 

“This isn’t just the big manufacturers like Patterson Pacific, JCI or Parker-Hannifin,” said SME board member Glen Bjurling. “Lane county has close to 600 local manufacturers that benefit from this program and give back to the local economy.” 

Lane County hosts 567 manufacturing and production companies who, according to the Bureau of 2019 labor statistics, make up 14.9% of the Eugene-Springfield total non-farm employment. With more laborers working and more factories producing, the local economy could see a long-term, sustainable boost that boasts an enticing return on net assess. 

Mayor Vinis also argued that Eugene has a particular need for unions jobs, lesser out-of-college debt, and economically secure positions. She believes “clean” factories will offer those very securities to the community. With the shine of a little positive light, guided by the opportunities provided from ASME, SME and the many companies present at this gathering, she believes they can accomplish these goals. 

In the small room of Building 12 at LCC, the smell of rust is gone. These are new, clean, and societally-conscious factories. SME and the local government have now joined hands in promoting the benefits of factory jobs. “The social stigma against these kinds of jobs can be broken,she said. “I think promoting vocational incentive will be enough to change our opinions.”