A Linn County mold making company that’s seeking local and state incentives to expand its operation said it has great-paying jobs that go begging due to a skills gap.
MSI Mold Builders, 12300 Sixth St. SW, uses CNC (computerized numeric control) vertical milling machines to make molds for plastic injection molders. One of the biggest markets for the molds are makers of all-terrain vehicles.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority will consider the state portion of a $144,000 package of loans for MSI Mold Builders at its Sept. 21 meeting for an expansion of the company. The expansion is expected to add 18 jobs and retain 6 positions in its current work force of about 70, providing space for four new machines.
MSI Mold Builders President Roger Klouda was optimistic about prospects that the expansion can be done in Cedar Rapids, which would be the company’s first choice because it is also the company’s headquarters. He said MSI is also considering South Carolina, where it has a plant closer to its customer base.
While the number of jobs is relatively small, Klouda said the quality of the work is high. The wage for fully-trained and experienced CNC specialists is $29 to $30 per hour, and the average wage is $24 with a full benefits package.
Even without the expansion, Klouda said MSI already has positions for qualified CNC specialists that it needs to fill.
“The biggest problem is attracting people to the business,” Klouda said.
He said the company has found it difficult to hire and train workers with no formal education in CNC operations, and a program at Kirkwood Community College that trains CNC operators has struggled to fill its allotment of students needed to fill a class.
It’s amazing to Klouda in an era of high unemployment that so few people go into the field. He partly blames a mistaken stigma that manufacturing involves “sweatshop” work in a hot, dirty environment.
“I’d need to get mothers in here to see what this place is really like,” he said, adding that some CNC specialists make $70,000 to $80,000 per year with overtime included.
Klouda said the entire mold business has been strong in the last year or two, as the auto industry has begun to rebound and more companies have moved forward with delayed capital investments.
MSI Mold Builders is in the top 5 percent of mold producers nationwide by sales and capacity, Klouda said, but differs from most mold builders in that it isn’t located near a large cluster of companies.
“Most of our customers are 200 to 1,000 miles away,” Klouda said. “We can’t wait for business to come to us. We have to go out and find it.”
The company has 18 CNC vertical milling machines, and some of the new machines it’s acquiring cost more than $1 million each.
The machines will open up opportunities for the company in producing larger molds, although some of the molds produced by the company already weigh thousands of pounds.
Linn County’s supervisors voted 3-to-1 this week to loan $28,000 for the expansion as part of the incentive package.
Klouda said good state incentives are also being offered for the company to expansd in South Carolina. That state also has a skills shortage in CNC specialists, he added, and the company has more competitors in that area trying to recruit the same skilled workers.