Phil Smoker – Elkhart, Indiana – Historic Low Unemployment – and Making it all Work

Posted On December 31, 2018

Phil Smoker finds himself in a unique situation these days. The fifth generation to build Smoker Craft boats, Smoker has seen his company average about 20 percent growth since rebounding from the recession in 2010. He’s had to hire a lot of people to keep up with that growth.

And now for the unique part: His company is located in Elkhart County, Indiana, where about half of all the RVs in the country are built. The unemployment level in Elkhart County is 2.4 percent – just under half the national rate.

So Smoker, whose company builds several different brands of fishing, utility and pontoon boats, has had to get creative in order to attract and keep good employees.

In this episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston,” Smoker shares with us how he’s been able to do that – and competitive hourly wages are only part of the equation.

Yes, in a county where $40-per-hour salaries were not unheard of, competitive pay is of utmost importance. Smoker says he’s lost employees to competitors in the area who offered as much as $10 more per hour.

But he also says he’s won many of those same employees back by creating a more attractive work environment. A family-focused atmosphere, facilities upgrades and generous bonuses, healthcare plans and vacation policies are part of that environment, but so are more trend-bucking initiatives such as the creation of smoking areas and permitted use of earbuds to listen to music while working.

Smoker shares other challenges of operating in a county where the workforce is stretched thin, such as busing in employees, taking a more generous view of job-hopping applicants, and dealing with poaching – including the hiring of employees from suppliers.

The concessions and perks that Smoker and other employers are offering to bolster their workforce today may become standard expectations for workers in the future. Join us for a timely discussion of what that could look like.

Check out this episode!

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