To understand how critical the labor shortage is in certain construction trades, consider the case of Fusion Welding in Fort Myers.
The company could have earned another $1 million in business in 2012 if it had found the skilled welders it needed, says Darin Beaner, operations manager.
Fusion Welding beefed up the staff last year to a total of 32 people. The company posted revenues of $1.5 million in 2013, and it's ready to more than double sales to $4 million this year. “We run two shifts here because there's not enough parking,” Beaner says.
Fusion Welding has worked on some high-profile projects in the area recently, including installing 4,000 feet of railing at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, the spring training home of the Minnesota Twins baseball team. “We're going to start seeing a lot of commercial development,” Beaner says.
But finding qualified people remains a struggle. To find the right people, Beaner says he had to hire 90 employees, culling to find the best. Many of the new employees come from the Midwest or Northeast areas of the country, where manufacturing is more established. “I don't think we have anyone working here that's from here,” he says.
Economic development officials with Lee County were no help with recruitment or financial incentives to expand, Beaner says. “Some of that red tape could be moved out of the way so I can grow,” Beaner says.
Beaner isn't impressed with any of the graduates of local vocational or technical schools, either. “It doesn't mean anything to us,” he says of a degree from a local vocational school with a welding program.
Fusion Welding employs engineers and designers who use computer-aided design software to create everything from railings to steel beams and outdoor sculptures. Recent graduates haven't received this training, Beaner says. “They need to teach them simple geometry,” he says.
What's more, Beaner says new graduates expect more pay and easier hours. “We can't teach pride,” he says.
Finding the right people is critical because husband-and-wife team Darin and Lisa Beaner have big plans for Fusion Welding, a company they established as woman-owned in case they pursue government work. They're scouting for 10 acres of industrial land on which to build a 100,000-square-foot building. If his projections are accurate, Beaner says Fusion Welding could grow to become one of the top 100 welding and fabrication companies in the country.
The Beaners have come a long way since they opened Fusion Welding in a 900-square-foot office condo in Cape Coral in 2010. They've financed their expansion using their own money, spending $500,000 on equipment alone in the last two years. “We're not looking for outside financing,” Darin Beaner says. “All my trucks are bought and paid for.”
But the Beaners aren't business neophytes. Darin Beaner sold his Indianapolis racing-car chassis company called Coyote Chassis in 2007 when he sensed the economy was headed into a recession. A dirt-car racer himself, Beaner built chassis for drivers such as A.J. Foyt.
The Beaners moved to the Fort Myers area to be closer to Lisa Beaner's family in 2010. “It was a culture shock for us,” says Darin Beaner, 45.
Darin Beaner says his retirement was short-lived, and he says the quality of welding companies in Southwest Florida was subpar. “Maybe I made a mistake,” he wondered at the time.