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Pequot Lakes gets creative to fill employee shortage

JENKINS — Pequot Tool & Manufacturing, like many manufacturing companies across the United States, has been on a roller coaster ride over the last decade.

First, there was the manufacturing recession of 2001-2003, followed by the economic recession of 2008-2010. It hasn’t been pretty for those in the manufacturing industry, said Pequot Tool CEO Karlo Goerges. Almost half the companies like Pequot Tool went out of business during the first recession and half of the remaining companies made drastic cuts in their workforce to survive the second one.

Goerges led Pequot Tool through the first recession and even added 22,000 square feet to the facility in 2007, only to watch the bottom drop out of the economy the following year. At the helm of the company his father started in 1981, Goerges refused to be another casualty of the recession. Business dropped off 13 percent during the next three years but rebounded 28 percent in 2011. When the dust settled, Pequot Tool grew almost 300 percent from 2000 to 2012 and 2013 looks like another busy year with a projected 15 percent increase in sales.

“We’ve been very, very busy,” Goerges said. “There’s such a big need for machining and fabrication out there, but you can’t fill [orders] the way it’s been done in the past.”

Located in Jenkins, Pequot Tool is a machining and fabrication company that produces metal and plastic components for customers in a variety of industries including medical, aerospace, firearms, telecommunications, defense and many more.

The company employs 137 people after 10 workers were hired earlier this year. Goerges says he’ll add at least another five more by year’s end. This spring, he made job offers to five Central Lakes College (CLC) students who hadn’t even graduated yet.

While Pequot Tool is enjoying success, the state of the industry is a frustrating situation for Goerges and other machining shops. During the last 10 to 15 years, an inadequate number of students pursued careers as machinists, engineers and technicians in the manufacturing sector.

Now, the industry has turned around with a surplus of work but manufacturers can’t find enough workers skilled in machining, fabricating and welding to fill vacancies. As a result, the workforce shortage is limiting the growth of some manufacturing companies.

Pequot Tool had to get creative to overcome the workforce shortage, Goerges said. New strategies include adding a trainer to the staff to increase workers’ skill levels, partnering with CLC’s machine tool technology instructor to identify key skills needed in the industry and developing more automation and robotics into the company’s production processes.

The company is also working with the Brainerd Lakes Chamber’s Bridges Career Academies and Workplace Connection in the middle and high schools to encourage students to consider careers in manufacturing.

“We have to sell students on going into the trades,” Goerges said.

Goerges also is getting creative with his workspace and workforce to increase efficiencies and capacity. For example, a 6,000-square-foot storage building will be converted to work space and he’s beginning to fill weekend and night work shifts.

Pequot Tool recently shared its expansion plans with staff from the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation (BLAEDC) and members of BLAEDC’s Executive Initiative — retired business executives (Execs) who volunteer their time and expertise to help local businesses and BLAEDC grow businesses and create jobs.

Goerges said BLAEDC has been a vital part of Pequot Tool’s success since the late 1980s and during most of the company’s expansions. For the most part, BLAEDC brought expertise to help find financing. “They understand what it takes to be in business,” Goerges said. “They touch a lot of different areas that most people don’t have knowledge about.”

Part of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation report series.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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