On Saturday, Congressman Roger Marshall listened as college students shared stories about lives saved by the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when he stopped at Haven, the last on his Farm Bill listening tour. They asked him if, after hearing these stories, he would have compassion for those in need and support funding for the program in the 2018 Farm Bill. Marshall agreed there is no question the need is there, but rather than a hand-out, he’d like to pave the way for jobs so fewer people need SNAP. Moments later, another attendee at his listening tour expressed his frustration, and asked the senator how he was going to bring jobs back to Western Kansas, where most recently the manufacturer Siemens had pulled up stakes, and several jobs paying $20 an hour were lost. He noted they likely weren’t coming back, at least not anytime soon.
Then, Monday night, Mike Cooksey, President of Roto-Mix, a manufacturer with four location, one in Hoisington, visited the Hoisington City Council meeting. After many extensions, the company and the city are finally nearing the finalization of a purchase and lease contract. The good news, however, was balanced with a hard truth.
Cooksey shared with council members that conducting business in all four of its locations, including Hoisington, was not without its challenges. While the company would “gladly double” its production, growth was probably going to be limited by workforce issues.
“It seems like the young generation doesn’t want to come to work, and in production like we do, being at work on time is a big deal for us,” he said. Ouch.
He went on to share the story of a recent disappointment. A promising new welder had been hired, and in his first five days on the job, he’d shown up late three times, Cooksey said. Success for this young person may hinge on something very simple. It may simply be a case showing up, or for that matter, being in the right place (at work) at the right time (on time).
Economic development in rural Kansas is a tough nut to crack, and there are countless hours and dollars being spent every year to try to coax it along. Efforts like providing college classes in high school to prepare students for careers and college, and private efforts from manufacturers who offer free access to welding programs. These are just two examples that happen locally.
The hope is if our young people receive training and acquire in-demand skills, companies like Roto-Mix will locate here to take advantage of a ready workforce.
There’s more to being being a ready workforce than passing a certification test. If the mothers and fathers and teachers of our young people don’t teach and demand the elements of a good work ethic, all the best economic development efforts will be for naught.
The Roto-Mix deal appears to truly be nearing completion, and Cooksey noted that the relationship with the City of Hoisington has been beneficial so far, and he hopes for that to continue for years to come. Therefore, there’s time to drive some lessons home to our young people about what it takes to really be a solid employee in today’s world. If we don’t, however, it won’t be long before the Roto-Mix train, and others like them, have no choice but to leave the station.