EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – On top of a deck barge, with several tons of steel coil being unloaded from a ship just feet away, Pier 48 Stevedoring owner Larry Heck explains to local teachers what he looks for in the workers he hires.
Unloading barges filled with raw materials that will eventually make their way to other local companies – from a grain company in Salem to a steel producer in Warren – isn’t rocket science, Heck said June 24 during a tour of Wellsville Intermodal Facility.
“You don’t need to be an expert. You just need to know the basic skills like math and eye-and-hand coordination and observation and the ability to keep organized,” Heck says. “Those are the biggest things we need. Those and attendance.”
The tour, organized by the Columbiana County Port Authority, welcomed elementary teachers from Wellsville Local Schools, along with Silver Apple, an education organization that coordinates project-based learning opportunities between schools and local companies.
Also on the tour were officials from Team NEO, the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association and the port authority.
The decision to include third and fourth grade teachers on the tour, says port authority CEO Penny Traina, was to provide them with information that can help them guide students’ career choices, which often aren’t frequently discussed until high school.
“We want them to know what’s here and what’s available as they look to their future and are ready to get into the workforce,” Traina says. “As we look at the industry, with the cracker plant coming in Monaca [Pennsylvania], it’s important to look at trade jobs and make kids aware of these elements. That way, they have better information and can make better choices in their junior and senior years.”
With the upcoming start of operations at the Shell cracker plant across the state line, Heck expects some of that business to boost Pier 48. While it currently operates on an eight-hour day, Pier 48 is capable of running 24 hours, he says. If that happens, he’d have to add employees beyond the 10 regular staffers he currently employs. Eight work as operators and on the cranes, with two in the company’s office.
“If we get a second shift in there, that’s when we’d start to add employees. In a case like that, that’s the productivity you’re looking for and for us, it’d come from the cracker plant,” Heck says.
The second company included in the tour, Cimbar Performance Materials, is currently looking to hire two or three, says plant manager Rodney Smith.
At its Wellsville site, the company employs laboratory technicians, electricians, mill and loader operators, maintenance workers and office works. Over the past few months, Smith says, the site has hired about 10 workers to bring the total to 36.
“Right now, we need at least two more employees. As business picks up throughout the year, we’re hoping to get back to 40 to 50, where we used to be,” he says. “At one point we were at 60 and we’d love to be back up at that number.”
The skills students will need depend on the jobs they’re seeking, he told the Wellsville teachers. Those in maintenance need welding or mechanical skills, while those working in the lab testing materials before they’re shipped out need to be proficient in science and math. Across the board, though, workers need computer skills as much of the process of grinding raw minerals and loading them onto trucks is automated.
Of the workforce at Cimbar’s site in the Intermodal Park, about 60% are from Columbiana County and 40% hold a college degree, Smith says.
“The community is a big part of our business. We try to have local people. We want the schools to know what we do so they can train students and have them familiar with us when they’re hired,” Smith says.
For both Cimbar and Pier 48, expansion plans are in the works. Cimbar is looking to add a blow line so it can increase its efficiency in loading railcars. Pier 48 is working with the Columbiana County Port Authority on its plans to add a warehouse at Wellsville Intermodal, which would open up new lines of business, according to Heck.
“If you put warehousing in that would allow us to stockpile material and get into sorting and packaging, we could expand to twice or three times the size we’re at now, even just for one shift,” Heck says.
Adds Traina: “We’re looking at adding storage so that when barges come in, we can offload and increase barge participation. … As a tri-modal facility [ships, rail and trucks], we’re looking at ways to increase our capacity across all three.”
Pictured at top: Columbiana County Port Authority CEO Penny Traina arranged the tour.