Burr tours Ottenweller on fact finding mission

David Broyles Staff Reporter

August 22, 2013

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr toured the Ottenweller Company, a metal fabrication firm in Mount Airy, Wednesday afternoon on a type of business fact finding mission.

“I had just arrived from visiting two very different types of businesses, one in King and Ottenweller,” said Burr. “I wanted to find out about what is going on in this county economically (in regards to jobs being created and expanding) and try to determine what will be North Carolina’s positioning in the future.”

Burr said his personal feeling was the state had to do a lot better job of supporting firms who supply manufacturers because of higher wages typically provided by these skilled positions.

Plant Manager Jim Trixler and Human Resources Manager Barbara Embry led Burr on the tour of the facility which include the fabrication facility’s welding shops featuring robotic operations and another operational area featuring a 14 1/2-foot wide and 53-foot long plasma table where a laser could precisely cut parts from steel.

Trixler told Burr important factors in the company being located in Mount Airy was its access to the interstate, the availability of steel in the region and a skilled workforce. He said another consideration was having the company’s needs for electrical power met.

“What can we (in Washington) do to help your business, other than going away,” joked Burr.

The two appeared to agree that an approach supporting greater partnerships between business, community colleges and local school systems where all the costs are not shouldered on one partner would allow business to expand due to a larger skilled workforce.

“We are already getting involved with local high schools and Surry Community College to get the word out,” said Trixler. “Our goal is for everyone to take a tour through here. Fabrication jobs are not what they once were. New facilities are more like where medical equipment was manufactured. We want to dispel rumors that fabrication is a dirty, nasty job.”

Burr agreed and said the state needs to more actively seek ways to bolster businesses who support manufacturing.

Trixler later said that estimates have set the shortage of welders across the U.S. at more than 200,000. He noted that all welders at Ottenweller are certified by the American Welding Society. He characterized the new fabrication workforce as an “energetic, young group” with an average age of 30 years.

When asked if this profile was similar to a similar workforce which stepped up to man the lines during WWII, he agreed and admitted at times in the profession’s past, hot, dirty conditions existed.

“Look around at this plant. We have a bright, clean facility,” said Trixler. “It’s true welding is essentially melting two pieces of metal together and that takes place in a hot environment and that unfortunately makes air conditioning unrealistic.”

He said a little more than six years ago the fabrication market in the region was untapped and plans on continuing to reach out to the community for recruitment and his membership in the Mount Airy Professional of Surry.

“It is absolutely wonderful to have Senator Burr visit one of our local industries,” said Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce Director Betty Ann Collins, who also participated in the tour. “We had our governor here last week, and Congressman Howard Coble also has visited Ottenweller, so we have been blessed of late with elected officials visiting such a stellar plant.”

Collins said she hopes to see more women in the fabrication workforce and thinks they could have an advantage in some operations which rely on attention to details. She said in a time when people are out of work or changing jobs, it is good that women are looking at options.

Reach David Broyles at dbroyles@civitasmedia.com or 719-1952.