Manufacturer Struggles to Find Workers Despite Wage Hike

The company has been forced to push orders out or refuse business entirely.

Gear Motions, a manufacturer of custom cut and precision ground gears for everything from oil pumps and cars to medical devices, earlier this month began construction on its new factory in Tonawanda, New York.

The plan is to bring the Gear Motions' Buffalo-based Niagara Gear and Oliver Gear divisions together under one roof. According to the company, the divisions are currently landlocked, which makes it impossible to expand operations. 

The new 56,000-square-foot facility won't be larger, but the layout will be more efficient and provide room for future expansion. 

Staffing the new facility, however, could be a challenge. In a recent NPR article, Gear Motions President Dean Burrows discussed the company's challenges in finding skilled labor. 

During the pandemic, many of Gear Motions' machinists took early retirement. But Burrows said he's not just looking for skilled labor; he'll take anyone. He's raised wages by 20% and offered to train prospective employees. Still, he struggles to find workers, particularly for second-shift positions, since he competes with companies like Amazon and McDonald's. 

Burrows has been forced to push orders out or refuse business entirely. He says it's not worth the risk to his reputation if he can't get employees who can produce the product. 

As manufacturers compete for help, companies are getting aggressive. In early August, rubber parts manufacturer Custom Rubber Corp. used $879,000 in Paycheck Protection Program money to significantly raise wages. On the other side of the coin, Tyson Foods has some 10% of its factory positions unfilled. The problem is causing the company to do five days' work in six. 

Gear Motions plans to start moving into the new facility in January.

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