At Therma-Flite, plant manager Donald Lee, left, speaks about company processes to SouthArk dean of business and technical education Jim Roomsburg.

Your opportunity has arrived, according to Therma-Flite Manufacturing plant manager Donald Lee.

Local companies want to hire local employees who have been trained locally, he said, and manufacturing jobs just keep appearing.
Therma-Flite, a California-based company that manufactures massive industrial screw heat exchangers at its center in El Dorado, is experiencing rapid growth. Lee said that it currently employs more than 50 people locally, but with a $1.8 million expansion underway and another expected to be right around the corner, more hiring is coming soon.

Thirty-four of Therma-Flite's El Dorado employees are welders. Lee just hired four South Arkansas Community College welding students who graduated last month.

"The first thing that we did was start looking at the workforce, and we found SouthArk," Lee said. "We saw an opportunity to build a relationship with the college. The training at SouthArk leads to good jobs right here in El Dorado."

Demarcus Smith, for example, is only 18 years old—he graduated from high school and from SouthArk in the same month, having completed the welding program offered through the college's Secondary Technical Center—but he now is employed full-time at Therma-Flite making $13 an hour plus overtime, with a full spate of fringe benefits and opportunities to advance. Many of his friends still are working part-time minimum-wage jobs. He said that he couldn't be happier.

"It was a great opportunity for me," Smith said. "My parents are proud of me, and I'm proud of myself."

 Welder Austin Carr, a 2014 SouthArk graduate who was hired by the Therma-Flite this month, works at the El Dorado manufacturer's facility.

An assessment test determines the starting wage for a welder at Therma-Flite. Lee said that Smith as well as the other three new hires from the college tested into significantly higher starting pay scales because of their proficiency on the exam.

The new employees readily thanked the instruction that they received through the SouthArk welding program, and program director Shannon Forrest, for that.

Several other area manufacturing companies also are hiring as the economy improves, jobs come back to the United States from overseas, Baby Boomers retire and plant expansions and product diversification become more prevalent, according to SouthArk technical education dean Jim Roomsburg.

"This is the best opportunity in decades to go into manufacturing," Roomsburg said.

In fact, demand for employees is so high in manufacturing that last fall, SouthArk was awarded $3.9 million in federal Department of Labor funds to bolster three technical programs.

Lee said that without having SouthArk here, his company would struggle to fill positions.

"It would be extremely difficult," he said. "It's hard to find skilled people. All of the manufacturers are in the same boat. We want to hire as many people as we can like these guys [who graduated from SouthArk], who know the basics."