For Earl Hagman, founder and CEO of Ergotronix, the most powerful inducement for moving his business from Danbury, Conn., to the Bradenton area was not the $48,485 economic incentive offered by Manatee County.
It was the quality of life.
The beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico spoke more powerfully to the native Swede’s Viking blood than did more lucrative economic enticements offered by other states.
Hagman moved his company, which had been called Ergotech in Connecticut, into 6,000-square-feet of leased space at 6408 Parkland Drive a year ago. He intended to build a facility of his own to manufacture ergonomic equipment to lighten the load for factory workers. Ergotronix makes equipment that allows factory workers to safely move and position heavy loads.
What Hagman didn’t envision was that he would have so much difficulty recruiting and retaining the highly skilled workers he needs to produce Ergotronix products.
“We had a great start. The biggest challenge is finding people to fill our positions. We have 30 requisitions, or openings, right now,” Hagman said.
Hagman has had some success hiring workers out of Manatee Technical College, only to have then snapped up other companies looking for the same kind of skills.
“Sometimes it feels like taking one step forward, and two steps backward,” Hagman said.
The hiring problem has been so severe that Hagman has had to delay his plans to build a new facility, and is staying put for now in his leased facility.
The problem isn’t because Ergotronix doesn’t pay the projected average wage of $41,164 a year -- Hagman says the actual wage is actually higher -- but because there are too many companies drawing from the same pool of skilled workers.
Since there is such a scarcity of talent, we all compete for the same people.
When Hagman moved his company to Manatee County, he expected to grow his workforce to 41, but has about half that number.
Doug Wagner, director of Manatee Technical College, said the workforce problems at Ergotronix are not unusual.
“The baby boomers are starting to exit the workforce, and you don’t have enough people to fill the jobs,” Wagner said. “Manufacturing jobs are ramping up, and there is a skills gap in the Suncoast area.”
More businesses and industries are moving to the Manatee-Sarasota area, including an influx of high-tech companies, at a time when baby boomers are leaving the workforce, Wagner said.
“We have an excellent machinist program that we run day and night. We have an excellent electrician program. Our challenge is having enough students,” Wagner said.
MTC has space available for more students, and financial aid, that offer great opportunities off the university track.
Heather Kasten, executive director of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, notes that the alliance recently hosted a luncheon where the focus was on developing a skilled workforce.
“Employers are having to get super creative to find and recruit skilled workers,” Kasten said.
“It starts with going into the high schools and getting the word out that skilled workers can make a great living. The trades are a great place to earn a really great living,” Kasten said.
Hagman is on the same page with Wagner and Kasten.
“Since there is such a scarcity of talent, we all compete for the same people. This is one of the challenges we have in common,” Hagman said.
“We are looking not necessarily for technical degrees, but technical abilities,” Hagman said.
Critical needs at Ergotronix include machinists, field service technicians, programmers, and assembly technicians.
“The majority of the jobs we need to fill are in the shop,” he said.
For information on employment opportunities at Ergotronix, call 941-727-7600.
Incentives at a glance
Location: 6408 Parkland Drive
Incentive amount: $48,485 (Manatee County)
Projected job growth: 41
Projected average wage: $41,164
Projected capital investment: $1.5 million
Source: Manatee County