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Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette makes campaign stop in Benton Harbor

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- Bill Schuette is campaigning to become ‘Michigan’s jobs governor.’ And at the Benton Harbor manufacturing company he stopped by Thursday morning, the need for more skilled workers was front and center.

“It’s just very good right now for all of us,” said Gloria Ender. “And we’re all thinking about adding on. We all are working 24 hours. We are giving each other work that we can’t handle anymore.”

Ender is the founder and president of Freedom Finishing on Meadowbrook Road in Benton Harbor.

The company – a ‘Mom and Pop shop’ that opened in 1988 and employs 62 people – applies industrial coatings to metal parts for all types of products to prevent rusting and discoloration.

Ender said the industry is booming, but the worker shortage is too.

Schuette, Michigan’s attorney general, jumped right into the action on Thursday during a campaign stop aimed at highlighting manufacturing in southwest Michigan.

“The key thing is we need to have more enhancement on apprenticeships in the skilled trades,” Schuette said.

The Republican candidate for governor was given a tour of the business by Gloria and her husband Erik.

The couple founded their business 30 years ago and said they welcome visits from politicians.

“It shows us they’re behind us and they’re interested in manufacturing,” Erik said.

“What we’re looking at to excel, and from the government, is for skilled labor and people that want to work,” Gloria said.

Schuette said he wants to be ‘Michigan’s jobs governor’ and help the state regain 300,000 jobs it lost during the great recession.

He didn’t offer many specifics on Thursday about how he plans to get Michiganders back to work, but he did say starting young in the classroom is important to him.

“Only a third of our third graders across the state of Michigan are proficient in reading,” Schuette said. “That’s unacceptable. That’s not worthy of Michigan.”

Between each newly-dipped piece of equipment inside Freedom Finishing – ranging from the inner workings of a car hubcap to the hinge of a refrigerator door – Gloria and Erik are working to keep up with demand, despite a skilled-worker shortage.

“Right now we’re working two 12-hour shifts and we’re paying a lot of overtime,” Erik said. “And we could be running another shift and paying normal time. But we just can’t find the people.”

Gloria said the ideal number of employees she’d like to have is 75; meaning 13 more than the 62 she has now.

She and Erik said the tax reform recently passed in Washington has been a huge help. The couple said it allowed them to give each of their employees a bonus and a raise.

Schuette said he wants to see even more tax cuts in Michigan.

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