C.A Voss of Electron Machine Corp. credits his employees for helping the Lake County manufacturer survive the recession. The company's workforce remained stable and flexible when hours had to be cut during those dark years after 2008.
Now those long-time employees are getting closer to retirement, and Voss is worried about finding new employees as stalwart as his current group, even as the company's business continually picks up.
"The key to our success has been our workforce," said Voss.
Most of the Umatilla-based company's workforce is from the rural North Lake County area at the edge of the National Forest, and Voss wants to continue to hire locals.
The problem is that a lot of the work at Electron requires very specialized training. Specifically, CNC operators are needed. They program computers that guide fabrication equipment the company uses to make instruments, which detect the concentration of a liquid as it goes through a pipeline.
Worries about finding CNC operators to replace his retiring staff made Voss one of the supporters of Lake County's Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Lake Technical College, a recently funded expansion to the Eustis college that will help it train more workers for local manufacturing jobs.
After three years of scraping together local seed money and grants from the state and Lake County manufacturers, Lake Technical College has put together the $4.3 million it will take to renovate some existing buildings. On March 29, Gov. Rick Scott left $2.8 million approved for the center in his 2016 state budget, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
Slated for completion in Spring 2017, the college's expansion will make it possible to train more students for sought after programs, including the CNC training program, as well as other high-demand and high-paying professions such as machining, welding and advanced fabrications.
In total, the college should be able to train between 50 and 75 more students each year for jobs that local manufacturers say they need to fill.
Lake County has more than 300 manufacturing companies employing about 7 percent of the county's workforce. That percentage is nearly double the statewide average employed in manufacturing. However, the average age of the workforce is 55 years old.
Several years ago when Dr. Diane W. Culpepper took the helm of Lake Tech, she started getting phone calls from manufacturers asking for welders and CNC skilled employees. They complained that they didn't have enough skilled workers to run their businesses.
The welding program was running day and night and still not turning out enough graduates to meet the county's needs. So Culpepper decided to push for expanding the college's offerings in areas manufacturers were calling for, and started seeking funds to make it happen. The project was named the Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM for short).
The path to funding was bumpy, but helped along by manufacturers and the county's lobbying.
"The whole community worked very, very hard to make this happen," Culpepper said.
Some preliminary construction/deconstruction work was done at the college to prepare the space for construction. Requests for Qualifications to bid will be issued by the Lake County School Board's system some time in June or July, Culpepper said. She hopes it will be complete and ready for new students in about 20 months.
"We are just chomping at the bit," she said.