By Christopher Selmek, Urbana Daily Citizen Staff Writer
A Fastlane survey of Champaign County manufacturing engineers and their employers reveal that more than 4,000 county residents are employed in manufacturing and that the average wage for county manufacturing employees is $64,000 a year.
This information was presented to around 30 representatives of area manufacturing companies and their allies in education and government who attended a breakfast hosted by the Champaign Economic Partnership (CEP) at the County Community Center on Wednesday.
According to the slideshow presented by county Economic Director Marcia Bailey, the purpose of the Manufacturing Human Resources Council is to provide education and awareness to the community and public schools regarding manufacturing opportunities in Champaign County.
"Our HR council started about 6 years ago, and we said this is what our goal was going to be, and we've stayed at this goal, and we're starting to see how much change actually has happened in the perception of what manufacturing is about," Bailey said. "That's what this is all about, changing that perception."
In the 3 years since we've joined the partnership, the excitement from the manufacturing industry in particular has been just overwhelming, and there's so much potential," said Todd Michael, president of the Champaign Economic Partnership. "It used to be that the goal was to bring in more manufacturing or more businesses, but it's just as important to have employees and to have educated employees. So it's chicken and the egg and we're trying to bring both simultaneously for good, steady, structured growth.
Mostly Men in Local Manufacturing Jobs
Bailey noted that the male-to-female ratio of employees is unbalanced, but that some area manufacturers like Sarica Manufacturing like to have female employees because of the intricate nature of the work and because female hands are smaller.
"Ninety percent of our engineers are males so we keep telling the young females you have a great opportunity in Champaign County to become engineers in manufacturing," she said. "We need more females in manufacturing. It's also important that the students understand that this is the income you can make as an engineer in manufacturing in Champaign County, $37 to almost $41 an hour, which is not chump change. We're trying to get as much of this out as possible and really appreciate Fastlane for gathering this information."
Within the last several years there has been an increase in workers ages 19-24 at county manufacturing companies, and Bailey said she hopes this number increases. Part of the CEP's outreach to area youth has included a YMCA camp called "Inventor's Workshop," in which area manufacturers lead children ages 6-12 in projects such as building Lego block towers and transistor radios.
Other outreach efforts include a booth at the Champaign County Fair and the annual Manufacturing Day event, held last Friday, in which high school students toured local manufacturing companies.
"Everything that's around as of today was made by someone, and it's just amazing to learn that," Bailey said.
Near the end of the breakfast, the county commissioners presented proclamations to several of the company representatives, thanking them for their service to the community.
"I just want to say thank you to all the companies and manufacturers and businesses that are represented here and those who might not have been able to make it," said Commissioner Steve Hess. "You guys are a big part of the engine that drives this county, so thank you for all your contributions to the community and all that you do. Keep up the good work."