Business bouncing back here

Friday, June 15, 2012
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Bobby Walker, patriarch of Walker Die Casting, shared his views and remembrances. In the background is a bass fiddle that Walker plays on Tuesday nights in his office lobby.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Walker Die Casting, one of Lewisburg's biggest employers, is constrained by a lack of skilled labor, the company president said, and that's not a criticism of the employees working there, according to his father.

Asked if the company has "bounced back from the recession," Walker Die Casting President John R. Walker replied "yes," it has, "but we're not where we were" before America slipped into a recession with several quarters of negative growth.

"The basic restraint is people," Walker said during a brief interview in the lobby of the company's offices and plant in the Lewisburg Industrial Park. "I could do more business with the right people."

His father, Bobby Walker, the man who started the company in 1958, had just been visited by state Sen. Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville) and retired Marine Col. Wayne Coomes on Wednesday afternoon, when the three exchanged views on business, life, and politics.

Walker started his business with four employees some 54 years ago. Now, Walker Die Casting employs about 600. The number was about 740 to 750 before the 2008 down turn. It was down to nearly 200 a few years ago.

"We've got a lot of people who work for us and they work hard," Bobby Walker said. "I'm going to brag. We've got a lot of good people here and they've done well."

John Walker's remarks about needing "the right people" were compared to a recurring theme among educators and economic developers working to attract jobs here. More must be done to prepare graduating seniors so they're ready to join the workforce.

"It's hard to train people," John Walker responded. "You can do it, but the bottom line is on-the-job training."

Consequently, he is hiring, "Yes, for the right skills." He wants experienced die casters, tool and die professionals and those with computer numerical control knowledge.

His father took a larger view of things when asked a two-word question. How's business? Details are to come from his sons, but Bobby Walker continued.

"The biggest trouble is ... it's hard to make things because you don't know what's going to happen," Bobby Walker said. "Who knows that the situation will be?"

Coomes concurs: "Can't make decisions in the fog."

Tracy spoke of balanced budgets.

Energy costs aren't the issue, Walker said.

"The question is: Who's going to win this election? We've got to replace this man," Walker said in an unmistakable reference to the president.

When Tracy asks Walker to tell his "biggest concern," the reply is again on issues larger than his plant.

"We have a good future if we behave in a reasonable manner," he said. However, the government can't "carry 50 percent of the people;" another unmistakable reference.

Part of the national debate during this election season has included concerns about those who are working paying taxes that support those who are not working.

He spoke of a "square deal" between people. "You just can't come out taking advantage of people."

His philosophy in business and life in general might be likened to questions asked by Rotarians' test of a deal. Is it fair? Is it good for all concerned? That may be more difficult at first, Walker said. But it leads to better relationships that might be likened to one mentioned on the plate affixed to the front of a clock in his lobby. It commemorates a 30-year-old business relationship.