Can a Satellite Campus Help Rural Manufacturing?

SCC-manufacturing-techIf you’re not familiar with Southeast Community College, they’re a community college system with campuses (currently) in Beatrice, Lincoln, and Milford.

We’ve highlighted some of their excellent programs on the blog, including nondestructive testing technology, precision machining and automation technology, and welding, because SCC is committed to training skilled workers for careers in manufacturing. They have a long list of technical programs offered, all with outstanding job placement rates. All sounds good, right?

For manufacturing companies like Ariens Company and Magnolia Metal Corporation, the location of these community college facilities are too far away from their rural plants to be of any benefit. Ariens Company, located off U.S. 75 on the southern edge of Auburn, employs 180 people at their Nebraska plant to make lawn mowers, log splitters, and snowblowers. The company is always looking for highly skilled and motivated workers to operate press machines, hand-weld parts, and for other needs, according to the Journal-Star, but growth is hindered by a lack of these workers who want to move out to a rural area. “The biggest challenge of operating in a small town, something different than the cities, is pulling skilled labor to the area,” said Jared Gerdes, the value stream manager on the manufacturing floor.

The team at Magnolia Metal (manufacturing bushings, bearings and compressors for the oil and gas industry) agrees, and says that recruiting and retaining workers is tough: “We advertise our jobs locally, typically in a 20-mile radius to places like Nebraska City, Falls City, Tecumseh and even Rock Port, Missouri,” says vice president of manufacturing Scott Reid. “Bringing in someone from Omaha or Lincoln, I just haven’t had any luck doing that.”

The problem is that graduates from southeastern high schools head to Lincoln to study at SCC and never come back: “When our high school grads go to Lincoln to study at SCC, they become integrated into the community,” said Bob Engles, a committee member and former mayor of Auburn. “Many of our grads become interns with Lincoln companies and end up going to work for these fine companies upon graduation. That leaves our local job creators without the skilled labor pool needed to grow and expand,” he says.

So, what’s the solution to a problem that is clearly growing quickly? Well, they’ve asked SCC to create a satellite campus in the Richardson, Nemaha, and Pawnee county area. This could serve high school students who want to join the local workforce, or even underemployed workers needing new skills. So, the college is currently working to expand operations further southeast– there’s no confirmation of a satellite campus yet, but they may start with small training facilities or computer labs. While there’s no guarantee that these changes will help retain workers, it’s at least worth a try.

What do you think? Should they add a satellite campus in southeastern Nebraska? Leave your comments in the section below!

photo credit: Southeast.edu