Tailor-Made Employees for TC Companies

Over his more than two decades at Northwestern Michigan College, Rich Wolin has seen a number of efforts designed to bring quality jobs to the Traverse City region.

But none has excited NMC's Director of Training and Research like the state's New Jobs Training Program, which launched about 18 months ago.

"In my more than 20 years here, with all the training and job creating programs that have been done through NMC, this is the best ever," he says emphatically. "This is the most efficient, the most flexible."

The New Jobs Training Program (NJTP) is designed to help businesses that are locating a new facility or expanding operations in Michigan. Funding to cover the cost of training new employees is attained through Michigan's 28 community colleges. That debt is repaid to the college through a diversion of withholding taxes generated by the wages earned by the new employee.

In other words, the employee's training is essentially paid by dollars that would have gone to the state for withholding taxes. No additional dollars are spent to cover the cost of training. Businesses gain because they get new workers trained at virtually no cost.

"The NMC board approved the program in Jan. 2010," says Wolin. "We were one of the first colleges to do it and we're still the only college in the northern half of the state that has done a project."

The largest local contract has been between NMC and Century Inc. which has begun a $6.2 million expansion plan at its Aero Park Drive complex and plans to add a number of well-paying jobs in Traverse City.

"Century plans to add 26 hourly production workers and nine office staff or white collar workers," says Wolin. "Their contact is just under $200,000 over the next five years.

Century's involvement began when the company received a MEGA award and Community Development Block Grant which provides capital equipment funding and ongoing tax credits. Through that process, company officials learned that not many companies were taking advantage of available training dollars.

"Our HR manager Jennifer Redumski took the initiative to follow up and we were very fortunate to be approved for training dollars that can be used to educate and train our new employees," says President and CEO Jeff McMullen. "In our business, our people are the key to our future so for us to receive this support through NMC will be invaluable to the long term success of Century, Inc."

The positions to be added include engineering, cost estimating and shipping, but the majority are direct labor positions, including machinists and heat treat furnace operators, according to McMullen.

A veteran-owned company, Century was founded in 1970 in the Detroit area and moved to TC by owner Bill Janis in 1974. The company specializes in manufacturing hardened-steel components. Precision machining and metal heat treating are the company's core business. Century serves a variety of clients in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, aerospace, defense, medical and oil and gas industries in 38 states and a dozen foreign countries.

The first area business to enroll and qualify for the program was Electro-Optics Technology, a company that specializes in precision laser work, optical testing and manufacturing. According to their contract with NMC, Electro-Optics plans to add 13 new technical positions over the next five years at a training cost of $80,000.

"We're trying to make it less cumbersome for companies," says Wolin. "We know that companies need to make changes frequently and we want to be flexible to help them make it happen."

According to Wolin, 17 area companies have expressed interest in the program. Four have done a preliminary application and four more 'are waiting.' He'd like to see others take advantage of this program before the $50 million cap in deferred tax revenues is reached. About $40 million of that has already been spoken for by applicants. There is an effort underway by groups including the Michigan Community College Association to raise the cap.

"The Michigan New Jobs Training Program is a valuable tool for employers to obtain the highly skilled and trained workers they need to be successful," says Michael Hansen, president of the MCCA. "This unique collaboration between our community colleges and businesses expanding or coming to Michigan will be a cornerstone of this state's economic revitalization."

For more information, contact Wolen at (231) 995-2003 or rwolin@nmc.edu.