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Clay County Manufacturer Vac-Con Inc. Awarded FCMA Award for Workforce Education

Clay County Manufacturer Vac-Con Inc. Awarded FCMA Award for Workforce Education

Why this Clay County manufacturer still pays for employees' college tuition

By Jensen Werley, Jacksonville Business Journal, October 24, 2016 

The Jacksonville Business Journal spoke to Darrell LeSage, president and founder of Vac-Con, a manufacturer of industrial truck-mounted vacuums based in Green Cove Springs, which won this year’s First Coast Manufacturers Association award for Workforce Education.

Vac-Con has instituted programs this year that have helped educate their workers to the extent that it has resulted in a reduction of accidents, even despite the fact that employees and crews shift on an hourly basis,” wrote the award bio for FCMA. “In addition, the company has spent time and resources to educate their community and area schools students to the arena of manufacturing.”

The Business Journal spoke to LeSage about why the company invests so much in workforce education, about the company’s expansion and how it is to do manufacturing in Florida.

You pay for college tuition for employees, and have moved employees from the floor to working in departments like engineering or marketing after they get their degrees? Why have so much emphasis on workforce education?

-"We believe in our people. We like to promote from within first and take any opportunities we can for people to grow. We always like to look inside first. We really care about our people. There are a lot of companies who say that, but not many who walk the walk."

-"In addition to paying for college tuition, we have four people graduating from the FCMA leadership academy, our third group to go through it. We like to have our employees take the opportunity to learn and grow."

You expanded recently, adding on 60,000 feet. You’re now opening a separate service center and administrative building across the street. Why all the expansion?

-"We’ve grown for the last 28 out of 30 years. In the smaller building, we had outgrown our capabilities. This expansion is for the future, we expect to still grow."

How is it being a manufacturer in Florida?

-"For us, it’s been great. With Governor Rick Scott, there’s been more support for manufacturers. We’ve had great cooperation with Green Cove Springs and Clay County. We’re able to find skilled labor from the local area, and we have the infrastructure and climate. If we outgrow our facility again, we can always work outside. You can’t do that up north."

-"We’re also fortunate that our product is on wheels. Florida isn’t the most centrally located, so it could be a little difficult for shipping. But we also have a big plus in the seaports, which is good for us and our international exporting. We can use Jacksonville, Savannah, we’ve even used Tampa. It makes this area a great location."

How is it finding employees?

-"We have 333 employees and are looking for 30 more. It can be a challenge, because unemployment is so low. We’ve advertised in Winn-Dixie and that works well."

-"We also have a lot of people who have come here through the military. About 20 percent of our workplace are veterans."

How many competitors do you have, and what sets you apart?

In the U.S., we have five competitors. We’ve spent the last 30 years focused on our core business, which is serving municipalities and exporting that goes with our municipal business. Our products are also custom manufactured for each customer. We are the best in what we do and in how we take care of our customers. They become part of the Vac-Con family. This is what we are and who we are and we’re going forward with it. For being a 30-year-old company, we’re having more excitement here than we’ve ever had.

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The Clay Florida Economic Development Corporation provides concierge service for companies who want to re-invest in expansion in the county or relocate their companies to the region.

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