The Villages Daily Sun

Success in Sumter for Manufacturing Industry

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Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 8:00 am

Before a Crevalle Boat ever hits the water, skilled workers spend weeks putting every piece together, from molding the fiberglass to installing the motor.

The manufacturing industry took a hit locally and nationally after the 2008 recession, but it has been on the mend in Sumter County with an increase in jobs and wages thanks to businesses like Crevalle Boats planting their roots in the county, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We have existing businesses that are expanding, such as Highway Systems Inc. in Sumterville, which is adding 15,000 square feet of manufacturing space,” said Jada Glover, economic development director for Sumter County. “Primus Pipe and Tube in Wildwood will also be expanding.”

Crevalle arrived in Wildwood in 2013 with one 20,000-square-foot building and has since doubled its 42-employee operation with another building of the same square footage.

The number of manufacturing establishments in the county and the average weekly wages for manufacturing jobs are the highest they have been since 2007, but that did not come without challenges.

Locally

The Manufacturers Association of Florida recognized Crevalle Boats’ success by choosing the company as Manufacturer of the Year in the small manufacturers category.

Chad Jaros, director of sales and marketing for Crevalle, said the company faced a challenge other manufacturers in the area experienced when first starting— finding enough skilled workers.

“Boat building is a very craft-related process, and we need a lot of skilled labor,” he said.

While Florida only employed .02 percent of the United States’ manufacturing workers in 2016, Jaros said he wishes more people knew how many manufacturing job opportunities there are in the area.

Crevalle and other manufacturers in the area help solve these issues by working with local schools.

The Mid-Florida Regional Manufacturers Association assists these businesses by helping create programs at the schools to develop trained workers.

“We work with Withlacoochee Technical College, Lake Technical College, the College of Central Florida and we work with the high schools to develop programs to prepare students for careers in manufacturing,” said Rob Adamiak, executive director of the Mid-Florida Regional Manufacturers Association.

The MRMA also provides training for those who already work in the industry to continue improving their skills.

“We have been working for several months training people with Primus Pipe and Tube, and we’re already scheduled to provide training throughout 2018,” Adamiak said.

Sumter County went from having 44 manufacturing establishments in 2007 to 53 in 2016, and average annual pay increased from $38,720 to $45,000 in the same time frame, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The number of manufacturing employees in the county reached its lowest in the 10-year time frame ending in 2012 then started to slowly climb until 2016, the year Central Beef LLC in Center Hill laid off more than 200 employees after it closed down.

Preliminary numbers show that number climbing back up in 2017. Al Butler, chairman of the Board of Sumter County Commissioners, said he sees that trend continuing.

“We’re making a real strong effort to get some businesses to this new industrial area south of Wildwood,” said Butler, who has 40 years of corporate executive experience in manufacturing. “We’re building up that infrastructure so that stuff can be ready to move in.”

Nationally

Adamiak said national repairs to the industry have come from recession recovery and the movement of manufacturing plants back to the United States from overseas.

But, the recovery has not happened swiftly.

The number of manufacturing employees has not returned to what it was before the recession hit.

More than 13 million employees were in the industry in 2007, and that number is slightly more than 11 million now.

However, Adamiak said, as more companies like those in Sumter County expand and others move plants back to the U.S. from Europe, those numbers could return to the 2007 peak.

He worked as vice president of manufacturing for Conimar Group and helped the company move its manufacturing from China to Ocala.

“A lot of companies who were offshore previously are now bringing their businesses back to the U.S.,” Adamiak said. “We brought (Conimar manufacturing) to Ocala, I made an automated production line, and our costs were cheaper than in China. We were able to compete with China, and those who were importing from there, they asked us to make the product for them.”

Overall, producing here is becoming more attractive to companies, he said.

“These companies are moving back because the technology and quality control is more competitive here,” Adamiak said.

Glover said businesses in the county are taking note of the trend and will see a greater emphasis on advanced manufacturing, which uses new technology and management systems to improve production.

“As our population continues to rise, and reshoring and ‘Made In America’ strategies play a role, we will see more opportunities for growth in the manufacturing industry in our region,” she said.

Mackenzie Raetz is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. She can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5354, or mackenzie.raetz@thevillagesmedia.com.