Rokita tours Wirco plant, talks workforce

Article by Steve Garbacz of KPC Media

U.S. Senate candidate came to Avilla for fundraiser

AVILLA — Advanced manufacturers already have the good jobs Americans want, so the government only needs to play a role helping provide locals with resources and nudging people who aren’t working to get back into the labor force, U.S. Senate candidate Todd Rokita said during a visit to Noble County on Monday.

Rokita visited Avilla for a tour of three Wirco Inc. facilities, followed by a fundraising reception hosted by Roy and Shelly Williams and Wirco owner Chad Wright.

Rokita, who represents west-central Indiana’s District 4, is one of three Republicans seeking his party’s nomination for the U.S. Senate seat up for a vote this year. The winner of the three-way Republican primary, which also includes Indiana 6th District Rep. Luke Messer and Indiana State Rep. Mike Braun, will get a chance to try to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly, a seat Republicans want to flip in the typically red Hoosier state.

Rokita took a tour of Wirco’s plants in Avilla with a small group including representatives from other Noble County manufacturers, as well as local leaders including Republican party chair Seth Tipton, Kendallville Mayor Suzanne Handshoe, District 82 Republican candidate and Noble County Commissioner Dave Abbott and Impact Institute director Jim Walmsley, among others.

Wright gave a little history about Wirco, which was founded by his grandfather as a heat-treating company before Wirco shifted focus in the late 1970s to primarily become a metal fabricator. The firm now employs about 75 people in Noble County, as well as around 100 more in Champaign, Illinois, at a foundry. Wirco’s Noble County plants focus on building metal work carrier baskets and components for industrial furnaces among other projects.

Wright shared with Rokita a problem that many local manufacturers are having, and that’s finding people to fill jobs and to train those workers with skills needed for the work. Wirco has launched its own internal training program and asked employees to find people they know in the community who are unemployed or underemployed and bring them in where company veterans can give them the appropriate training in-house.

That kind of effort struck a chord with Rokita, who said one thing he’s been working for in Congress is trying help remove red tape from government training programs to allow resources to flow where they’re needed.

“Our whole goal is to try to streamline these federal programs to get them to local elected officials, like the mayor who is joining us here today, and getting into these local training programs to get the bureaucracy out of the way,” Rokita said. “One size doesn’t fit all and I’d rather this leader in the community who owns this business tell us exactly what he needs and how he needs it. Or not even tell me. Tell the mayor. Tell the local workforce training board.”

Rokita, who serves on the House Education and Workforce Committee, said another goal needs to be helping high schools with vocational education program so that students can more easily transition from the classroom right into the workforce.

The congressman also noted that welfare-to-work efforts that have been spearheaded by Republicans across the nation will also help to get people off federal assistance programs and back into the labor force.

“If you’re going to apply for TANF (cash assistance), if you’re going to apply for food stamps, if you’re going to apply for Medicaid, healthcare for the poor, and you’re able-bodied, you should have a job or be in training for a job before you’re even able to apply for the benefits,” Rokita said. “You earn your happiness and you earn your success when you go to work and earn your paycheck.”

America’s workforce is aging and many industrial jobs are held by members of the older generation. Employers can help get young people interested in industry by showing that high-tech manufacturing has a lot to offer.

“In places like these, the way these leaders are setting it up, it’s attractive. The pay is good and they’re showing a pathway with future success. These aren’t dead-end jobs,” Rokita said. “These are advanced manufacturing jobs where you need different skill sets and you’re going to keep learning as you go through your working life and that’s going to present other opportunities. We just saw millions of dollars worth of equipment. Sounds pretty cool to work on, pretty good to work with.”

Following the tour, Wright announced that he would be giving every Wirco employee a $500 bonus as a result of the savings the company would see from federal tax reform passed by Republicans in late 2017. Rokita, along with the rest of Indiana’s Republican delegation, had voted in favor of those large business tax rate cuts.