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Area manufacturing sector sees slow recovery

LA CROSSE, WI - The manufacturing industry is fighting a slow recovery across the nation and in La Crosse, but local companies are helping to jump-start that recovery with their hires.

Jobs experts are describing the industry as slow, but not completely stopped. While manufacturing jobs a strong hit during the recession in 2008 and 2009, the industry is making a gradual comeback here, and graduating students in the area are more than ready to help.

Western Technical College is offering the skilled workers needed to help a manufacturing recovery. Two of their most popular manufacturing programs - welding and electromechanical technology - are providing students with skills that local employers are looking for.


"In many cases there are 3 or 4 jobs out there waiting for them when they're out there applying," said Bill Brendel, a dean at Western Tech. "We're running short of graduates to fill the needs some of our local employers have."

La Crosse's Trane Company is eating up these manufacturing graduates - it currently employs about 200 salaried workers who graudated from Western Tech. Experts say as the recovery continues, there are more and more jobs available to students right out of graduation - especially with a workforce dominated by aging baby boomers.

"The average age of the manufacturing worker over these last few years has been actually increasing," said Bill Brockmiller of the Wisconsin Jobs Center. "What that ends up meaning is replacement jobs are increasing."

Department of Workforce Development numbers show 8,600 manufacturing jobs were added in the La Crosse area in August, a sign of the industry's recovery. But that recovery's trajectory is uncertain – thanks to the federal government shutdown, September's jobs numbers haven't been released yet.

But experts estimate the manufacturing industry will continue its path of slow recovery.

"We're going to continue to see this slow, steady growth, nothing that shoots off the charts, but it isn't going to turn south either," Brockmiller said. "We're going to continue to grow in the right direction."

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