Gov. Walker tours Spiros plant

By RALPH CHAPOCO - Daily News

Oct. 10, 2017

Gov. Scott Walker shakes the hand of Spiros Industries employee Floyd Rettler on Monday afternoon at Spiros Industries in Kohlsville. Walker visited Spiros for the company’s first Manufacturing Day.
John Ehlke/Daily News
>>View video of Gov. Walker answering questions after the tour

KOHLSVILLE — State officials descend upon a local manufacturing facility to commemorate one of the most significant economic drivers for the region and highlight the opportunities it provides.

Gov. Scott Walker toured the Spiros Industries plant in Kohlsville on Monday, stopping at the various stations to speak with employees and learn more about their professions and skills they need to operate the machinery.

The event was part of a larger campaign that emphasizes the importance of manufacturing to Wisconsin while praising the benefits that careers in that field offer.

“Our state and Indiana, those two states are, by far, the top two states in America in terms of the percentage of our economy dependent on manufacturing,” Walker said. “We love manufacturing big and small. Why? Because of the hard work and commitment they put into, not only the current employment base, but thinking about future employees in our high schools, technical colleges and apprenticeship programs.”

The governor would then provide a list of both monetary as well as intangible advantages that a career in manufacturing provides employees. Walker claimed that jobs within the industry pay about 20 percent more than the average occupation in the state.

Walker smiles as he is introduced at Spiros Industries.
John Ehlke/Daily News

They are also more likely to provide benefits that include health insurance and disability than others — leading to a higher retention rate than profession in other fields.

“I met a number of folks on the way in and I heard, 13, 20, 23 years or more,” Walker said referring to the number of years they remained in manufacturing. “That is a pretty good sign because people don’t usually stick around a place if they don’t like it.”

Students at Moraine Park Technical College visited the site to partake in the celebration and tour the facility.

Gov. Scott Walker talks with students from Moraine Park Technical College on Monday afternoon during a Manufacturing Day event at Spiros Industries in Kohlsville.
John Ehlke/Daily News

Walker and Aaron Tobin of West Bend perform a scout handshake Monday afternoon at Spiros Industries in Kohlsville. Walker, an Eagle Scout, signed Tobin's Eagle Scout certificate that was also signed by Gov. Tommy Thompson in 1999.
John Ehlke/Daily News

One was 18-year-old student William Korebec, who developed an interest in the skilled trades as a freshman in high school.

“I took a shop class just curious what it was,” he said. “At freshman orientation, I saw a machine running. I thought it would be cool to see how that all works, so I took a class, learned how it all works, programming, and just fell in love with it from there.”

Another was Troy Sabel, who is in his second year at the college and whose family has experience in the trade.

“Right now, I work in a tool shop for a tool and die place,” he said. “I hope to acquire an apprenticeship. Then I can become a journeyman for a tool and die maker.”

They would symbolize the dilemma industry leaders face when preparing for the future — the shortage of available workers.

“In fact, we are one of the top five states in the nation in terms of the percentage of people in the workforce,” Walker said. “Most of our counties are either at or close to the lowest levels of unemployment we have had in this state. Those are all really great things — unless you are hiring.”

Marcia Arndt, associate dean of manufacturing at the school, agreed with the governor’s assessment.

Walker speaks with Sen. Duey Stroebel on Monday afternoon at Spiros Industries.
John Ehlke/Daily News

“I would say the biggest challenge right now is that we have so much demand from employers for skilled workers,” she said. “We don’t have enough people in the pipeline to meet it, so we had openings yet starting this fall that we could have had students in, but it has been a challenge to get students to come into the program to meet that need.”

The skilled trade has witnessed dramatic changes in recent years. The days when employees were tasked with one activity has changed. Many are now responsible the assembly of a part.

Spiros President Dennis Backhaus demonstrated how a worker is responsible for programming a machine to fabricate a spring used in equipment. The individual needed to know how to program the machine, inspect the part and review drafts of the item.

“There are so many opportunities of you want to you to a skilled trade,” Walker said when he addressed the students. “There is a tremendous opportunity because there are ‘help wanted’ signs all over the place.”