It sounds like the perfect opportunity for anyone who is unemployed or underemployed in Rapid City: a new local firm has up to 50 jobs to fill, will pay up to $20 an hour with benefits, and may fly new employees to Texas for training.
And yet, WL Plastics is scrambling to attract applicants for the positions it needs to fill as it builds a new plant on Dyess Avenue in Rapid City. The company based in Fort Worth, Texas is pouring concrete for a new 45,000-square-foot plant here to build pipes that mostly will serve the oil fields of North Dakota.
The firm broke ground in October and is building at a fever pace to be open by summer. But six months into the project — which came about after the city and state dangled $10.5 million in incentives — the biggest hang-up may be finding people to fill the 40 to 50 local jobs it will create.
"We're struggling to get applicants," said Lisa Baumker, office administrator for the local plant. "We're still due to open in June, and we're really trying to get people hired."
Baumker has listed the job openings through the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation, and has filled only a handful of the supervisory positions. Those jobs, including shift and production supervisors, pay $17 to $20 an hour (up to $41,600 a year) and include training in Texas.
The remaining few dozen jobs have been harder to hire for, she said. Those include production positions that may only require a high school diploma and will pay $12 to $14 an hour, or about $29,000 a year, she said.
Baumker said she isn't sure why more people haven't applied, but she said some applicants for the supervisor jobs have either been highly under-qualified or over-qualified, or are asking for too much money.
But Fred Dieken, the assistant manager of the state Department of Labor's local office, has some thoughts on why the production jobs aren't being scooped up.
For starters, he said WL Plastics has not formally opened the production jobs on the state web site. But he also notes that with unemployment so low — South Dakota's February unemployment rate of 4.4 percent was second-lowest in the nation — it is more of an applicant's market than in the past.
Dieken also noted the obvious: that high-paying oil jobs in North Dakota, which has the nation's lowest unemployment rate, are siphoning away job applicants from South Dakota, including those in Rapid City. "If you're flexible enough to stay in a work camp or a temporary situation, you can find work there," he said.
But Dieken said that while the local economy and employment situation have rebounded significantly from the depths of the Great Recession, jobs are still highly sought after.
"I don't think we've hit the point yet where we have more jobs than people," he said. "I have no qualms that they (WL Plastics) will get flooded when those production jobs open up."
But certain jobs will be extremely difficult to fill here, he said. Employers that need nurses, skilled trade workers or truck drivers will have a hard time finding qualified applicants here, Dieken said.
Skilled trade workers can go to North Dakota and make far more than here, as can truck drivers servicing the Wyoming coal industry, he said. The nursing shortage is a nationwide phenomenon.
"We could put anybody to work in a heartbeat that had experience in heating, air-conditioning and ventilation, and probably plumbing and electrical," he said.
The current job openings on the Department of Labor web site show 733 jobs offered in Rapid City and 902 in the region that stretches from Sturgis to Wall. That list includes jobs ranging from a sales associate for $7.25 an hour, to a morning show co-host for $28,000 a year, to an advanced practice clinician at $77,000 a year.
But even with more than 900 local jobs, the site has about 10 to 20 percent fewer listings than before the recession hit, Dieken said.
Meanwhile, Baumker said anyone interested in working at WL Plastics should visit the state jobs site at dlr.sd.gov and click on "quick job search" and highlight Rapid City, because for now she's not taking phone calls. But that could change if hiring doesn't pick up. "We have at least three dozen jobs still needed," she said.