The crucial role of the steel industry in Northeast Arkansas

by Patrick Schueck ([email protected]) 80 views 

At Lexicon Inc., our dedication to the steel fabrication and construction industry goes beyond building structures; it’s about creating a foundation for economic growth in Northeast Arkansas, the state of Arkansas and the country. The steel industry is a pillar of our state’s economy, providing jobs, fostering industry growth and driving innovation.

As we navigate the challenges of the 21st century, Lexicon’s commitment to workforce development through on-the-job training and strategic educational partnerships ensures that our current and future workforce has the cutting-edge skills and work ethic to build America right here in the heart of Northeast Arkansas. We’re not just a steel construction company; we’re a people company that happens to be in steel construction.

Our steel industry is a lifeline for our communities. It provides stable, well-paying jobs that support families and fuel local economies. Additionally, the steel industry provides high paying jobs for all sorts of craft labor, including millwrights, pipe fitters, electricians, mechanics, ironworkers — pretty much any trade you can think of that supports the industry.

Lexicon, which has proudly been a Northeast Arkansas employer since 1987, is guided by a focus on people, quality, safety and innovation. We employ nearly 1,000 individuals at six locations in Northeast Arkansas and invest tens of millions of dollars into the region’s workforce. Our industry’s economic impact reverberates through various sectors, from manufacturing to logistics, highlighting the importance of sustaining and growing this field.

Patrick Schueck courtesy of Karen E. Segrave | KES Photo.

One of the most promising trends we are seeing is the resurgence of interest in trade skills among Gen Z, which has recently been called the “tool belt generation.” They bring energy, innovation and a fresh perspective that is essential for the evolution of the steel construction industry. In addition to this generation’s aversion to taking on significant student debt, their renewed focus on the trades aligns perfectly with our strategic vision. By equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge, we are not only addressing current labor shortages but also setting the stage for long-term industry sustainability.

This is why some of our highest priorities are continuing to spark interest and invest in ongoing educational opportunities in the steel industry. From our internal workforce development training program — Lexicon University — and the development of a new corporate position — director of training and development — to our partnerships with Arkansas Northeastern College (ANC) in Blytheville and several secondary educational institutions in the region, we provide training to our current workforce as well as internship opportunities to students pursuing careers in the steel construction trades. In fact, since February 2023, we’ve trained 94 of our team members to become welders.

We are pleased to partner with ANC on a millwright mechanics program that allows our employees — many of whom live and work in Northeast Arkansas — to meet the needs of the industry and grow valuable, cutting-edge skills. As part of Lexicon University, the millwright mechanics program at ANC includes three levels of courses that address the specialized needs of maintaining and operating the sophisticated machinery used in steel fabrication and construction. The program combines classroom instruction with hands-on experience to ensure that participants gain a comprehensive understanding of tools and techniques required in the field. By investing in such specialized training, we ensure our workforce remains highly skilled and adaptable, equipped to handle the challenges of modern steel construction, from maintaining high standards of precision to ensuring operational efficiency.

We are excited for the first cohort of millwright mechanics students to graduate from the program this month. Fifteen students will walk across the stage at ANC on July 19 to accept their diplomas — actually printed on steel — of completion. But they gain more than just a certificate; the program provides them a deep expertise that makes them valuable contributors to the local and state economy and further solidifies their roles as experts in the field.

Additionally, Lexicon invests in the region and the next generation of steel industry professionals by providing paid internship opportunities to ANC steel construction students and entry-level welding instruction to local high school students interested in the steel industry. Our hands-on training provides a knowledge base of essential skills, from welding and fabrication to safety protocols and advanced construction techniques. Students complete the program not only as skilled workers but as more confident, inspired young men and women ready to contribute to the thriving steel industry in Northeast Arkansas.

Lexicon has proudly invested in Mississippi County and Northeast Arkansas for four decades and counting, and there is no doubt that momentum is continuing to build for the region. Mississippi County residents have made it a point to invest in themselves through a half-cent economic development sales tax that has attracted $8 billion in private capital investment and 8,000 jobs since 2003. Additionally, a number of major employers here are investing in programs like “Work Here. Live Here.” The program has generated $21.3 million in new home construction over the past 20 months.

These initiatives are about more than just filling jobs; they are about creating career pathways and better lives. We are proud to contribute to the economic vitality of Northeast Arkansas and the broader state through our unwavering commitment to the steel industry.

Through our strategic partnerships and innovative training programs, Lexicon is preparing the next generation of steel workers to meet the challenges of tomorrow, because we understand that teaching them a skill gives them a career. Together, we are building a stronger, more resilient future for our industry, our community and our state.

Editor’s note: Patrick Schueck is the CEO of Lexicon Inc., an Arkansas-based provider of construction management, steel fabrication, erection, mechanical installation and plant maintenance for heavy industrial, commercial and bridge projects, and golf course construction, renovation and management. The opinions expressed are those of the author.