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Report: Southern Nevada Manufacturers Have Plenty Of Work, Not Enough Workers

Chelten House

The Chelten House plant in North Las Vegas employs about 60 making private label food products.

A new report card on manufacturing in Southern Nevada shows optimism in the sector.

The Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance development agency is releasing a report today that surveys area manufacturers. It finds many are more worried about finding workers than they are about finding work.

After shedding thousands of jobs in the recession, manufacturing in Southern Nevada has enjoyed six years of steady growth. Statewide, manufacturing has grown by nearly 7,000 workers so far this year, more than any other sector, including construction.

Still, fewer than 3 percent of the Southern Nevada workforce has a job in manufacturing. Nationally the figure is about 8 percent. 

The Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, better known by its initials LVGEA, is working to bring new manufacturers into the market by stressing Southern Nevada’s low-cost structure and proximity to the West Coast.

Jared Smith is the CEO of LVGEA. He says the alliance is committed to bringing more manufacturing to Nevada. But he says the idea of manufacturing being heavy equipment in large soot-covered factories is outdated.

Smith says manufacturing has changed. It includes everything from small parts for computers to wooden pallets and food products.

One of the appeals of manufacturing and the jobs the sector brings is they're not mobile. Once a manufacturing plant has been established, it is unlikely that it will move.

"We believe it is a lot harder to pick up $250 million out of the ground and move it somewhere," Smith said, "So when they make an investment here, they're committed to Nevada."

In the LVGEA survey, employers say while the quality of applicants has improved recently, access to a trained workforce remains a challenge.

It is a challenge understood by Gina Ciampaglio. She is the human resources manager for Chelton House. Chelton House is a private label food manufacturer based in New Jersey that five years ago opened its West Coast hub in North Las Vegas.

Chelton House makes food products like salad dressings and pasta sauces then sells them to grocery stores, which put their store brand label on the products.

Ciampaglio said setting up shop in Southern Nevada was an easy choice mainly because of transportation and access to most of California. However, she said finding high-quality employees has been the biggest challenge in moving to Southern Nevada.

"I guess the good thing is unemployment is low, which is a good thing," she said, "But then it makes it a little more difficult to recruit."

One of the biggest barriers is skilled workers and not just skilled in traditional manufacturing line skills, but skilled in what are called soft skills. 

Ciampaglio says soft skills refer to conflict resolution and effective communication. People who already show good communication skills, leadership and conflict resolution skills can be trained on how to operate certain equipment on the manufacturing floor.

Creating that skilled workforce is in the hands of the state's education system. Ciampaglio said Nevada has "stepped up to the plate" when it comes to education.

She is working with colleges and trade schools around Southern Nevada to create more internships. But also schools have come to manufacturers to help create curriculum and design programs that direct students on exactly what they need to know to get a job.

It is those future workers that are needed to grow the state's emerging manufacturing sector, Smith said. Right now, finding the right employee for the job is the only thing holding the sector back.

"We have not traditionally been thought of as a manufacturing hub," he said, "But because of what is going on around us, we are the perfect place for a manufacturer to grow."


Jared Smith, CEO, Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance;  Gina Ciampaglio, human resources manager, Chelten House 


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With deep experience in journalism, politics, and the nonprofit sector, news producer Doug Puppel has built strong connections statewide that benefit the Nevada Public Radio audience.