Businesses face a lot of issues on a daily basis and anything that affects the costs for that business is a big deal, the president of a company told Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.
Boozman toured the Hytrol Conveyor Co. Wednesday, talking to officials and employees. The company, which has been located in Jonesboro since 1947, has 850 employees at its Jonesboro location, company president Gregg Goodner told Boozman before a tour of the plant.
The company makes conveyors and other equipment for businesses like Barnes & Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Macy’s and FedEx.
Goodner said the company had its best year in company history last year, with the last several years providing optimism after the economic downturn in 2008.
However, Goodner warned that many companies are seeking to automate and streamline their facilities to be more productive. The Hytrol facility has created so-called “focus factories” inside its factory walls with each “focus factory” working on a specific project.
Boozman and Goodner spoke for about 40 minutes on a variety of issues including workforce training and education.
Goodner said one of the major concerns for his company and others involves finding a skilled workforce to meet growing demands.
The company recently donated $200,000 to the Arkansas State University College of Engineering to help train and assist engineering students.
The money will be used to set up an engineering scholarship program at the company. Currently, the business gets engineering graduates from ASU, the University of Arkansas and the University of Missouri at Rolla.
Chris Glenn, who is the company’s vice president for manufacturing operations, told Boozman there is a constant need for welders as well.
Glenn said his company needs close to 40 welders while another nearby business needs close to 200 more.
“We can’t find enough welders,” Glenn said, describing the need as a nationwide trend.
There has been a push for companies and academia to work together on issues, with both having something in common – pushing a product, Goodner said.
Goodner said that while companies fundamentally work to push their products in the market, academia also pushes a product, i.e. preparing its students for their future.
Goodner said his company’s third highest cost involves healthcare.
He said many of the healthcare plan costs for the company are frozen and that Obamacare has been “a thorn in the side” for his company and others like them.
As for a way to keep healthcare costs down, Goodner said the company has its own on-site clinic with an x-ray machine and three waiting rooms.
A nurse, nurse practitioner and two doctors working three days a week during the week take care of employees and family members who may be sick or injured.
The company also has a health club, with a swimming pool for employees to use, Goodner said.
Boozman said the visit, during a Congressional recess, provided him and his staff an opportunity to learn about issues.
“It is so important to get out and talk to people about jobs and the economy,” Boozman said of the visit. “We can also check to see how we can help.”
On education, Boozman said public/private partnerships have proven to work in the past. Boozman also credited state lawmakers and Gov. Asa Hutchinson for their work on workforce education.
“The state is doing a good job, thinking outside the box,” Boozman said.
A series of workforce training bills were signed this week into law by Gov. Hutchinson.
The state’s congressional delegation heads back to the nation’s capital on Monday for work.
Boozman said the lawmakers should be very busy.
Among the issues to be discussed include the federal budget, which goes to conference next week; the reauthorization of the highway bill set to expire May 31, 2015; the so-called “Doctor Fix” on Medicare reimbursements; and the issue with nuclear weapons and Iran, Boozman said.