Small-town auto factories face a challenge: finding workers

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This “magic circle” around the proposed facility must include at least a few major population centers from which the automaker can attract early employees, said Chris Berryman, a veteran auto specialist with the branch. economic development of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Berryman, who recently helped lure Ford to West Tennessee for its Blue Oval City and previously landed investments from General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen in the seven-state TVA region, said what was contained in the resulting 120-mile circle was a first requirement for any site, regardless of manufacturer.

“They all had a 60-mile radius that they wanted to look at during the site selection process, and that’s a direct correlation to that initial workforce of about 1,500 people that they need to launch their first phase of manufacturing,” Berryman said. .

“Every OEM is currently going through a workforce challenge trying to retain what they have and also trying to recruit [new workers] if they announced an expansion, Berryman said. But “what has changed is the COVID issue on OEMs. Today’s worker has a bit of a different mindset than before COVID,” forcing automakers and suppliers to offer better wages, better benefits and more flexibility in shift work. if they want their factories to continue to operate.

Sadler said companies need to get creative in order to get enough bodies into the application pipeline.

“You’re starting to see companies looking at these barriers to employment, like child care, housing burdens, transportation burdens, working hours and how can they work to be more flexible in the workplace. breaking down some of those barriers, so people have the opportunity to go to work, she said.
The tight labor market is also helping to erase some of the historic wage advantages the Southeast used to lure so many auto factories there. “I don’t know if it’s fair to say [the wage gap] left. There’s still a gap between a metropolitan area and a rural area,” Berryman said. “But I think the gap could narrow a bit.”

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