Sumter Co. manufacturers, allies hoping to build reliable workforce


In Sumter County, the manufacturing jobs are there, but some of them remain unfilled.

The Sumter Economic Development staff has made it its mission to recruit young people to manufacturers in the county like Continental Tire, Eaton, and Becton Dickinson, and that recruiting continues this week.

At Becton Dickinson’s Sumter plant, Plant Manager Kevin Johnson and his workers make some important products.

“Obviously the needle to draw the blood, then the tube to hold the blood, then it moves onto the laboratory,” he said. “Behind every product we make, there’s a patient, and there’s going to be a diagnosis based on that blood.”

By all accounts, they’re good jobs.

“We’re one of the best paying jobs in the county,” Johnson said.

He said they’re clean and safe jobs too.

“I like to tell people it’s no longer ‘Lucy in the Chocolate Factory.’ It’s quite different. It’s advanced. It’s world-class,” he said.

But the plant manager said they’re jobs not always easy to fill. It’s a problem he thinks about often.

“Every day,” he said. “It’s absolutely key to what we do. I’d like to say we’re holding our own, but the truth of the matter is we have openings, and we have openings that aren’t actively filled right now that we would like to have filled.”

It’s not a problem unique to Becton Dickinson or even Sumter County. But right now, Sumter Economic Development has made the problem its focus.

Erika Williams with the group is constantly working to build a reliable workforce in Sumter County by reaching out to young people and, perhaps, more importantly, their parents to tell them there are jobs available, you might not need a college degree to apply, and they aren’t dirty.

“Honestly, there are some manufacturing facilities where you can practically eat off of the floor just by what the safety requirements are for that particular business, so it’s clean, it’s safe, the benefits are great. The pay, man, it’s very lucrative. It’s one of those things like, ‘Ah ha! Had I known, you know, would I have taken a different path?’ But the thing about it is, it’s not just about what I know, it’s about having that opportunity to share that information with others,” she said.

Thursday night, Sumter Economic Development will host a reception for parents of eight graders in Sumter and Lee Counties to tell them why manufacturing careers might be best for their children.

Friday, those students will be exposed to advanced manufacturing in an expo.

Copyright 2017 WIS. All rights reserved.