The Red Wing Area Manufacturers Association and the Red Wing Area Chamber of Commerce held their annual Manufacturers Appreciation Luncheon Monday, Oct. 22, in the St. James Hotel.

Several speakers briefly addressed the group, including Sean Dowse, mayor of Red Wing, Barb Haley, Minnesota House representative from District 21A, Lori Ann Clark, candidate for Minnesota House representative in District 21A, Mike Goggin, Minnesota senator for District 21 and Karin Housley, Minnesota senator for District 39 and U.S. Senate candidate.

Mark Schultz, regional labor market analyst with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, provided attendees with several slides of data showing how the current population fits in with the needs of the workforce.

Schultz asked the audience, "Please don't shoot the messenger," when he announced that businesses in southeastern Minnesota are faced with the lowest ratio of applicants to jobs in the state, he said, noting that there are about six unemployed people for every 10 openings.

"The total labor force (in Minnesota) is expected to decrease by over 6,000 through 2030," Schultz said. "The data shows that we are in a bad state now, and it is not going to get any better."

He acknowledged that these numbers lead to frustration for many employers. This can often be increased when employers line up applicants for a position, but the applicants don't show up for work or other problems arise.

Schultz explained the costs involved in raising a family in today's world, and noted that of the 700 jobs currently open in Minnesota manufacturing companies, most of them are full-time positions which means they come with benefits, which will help families meet those costs.

The featured speaker, Stephen Pilla, vice president and chief supply chain officer with Red Wing Shoe Co., explained the current state of business at the company.

Pilla has been in Red Wing for 18 months, and when he arrived at Red Wing Shoes, he found the "complexity of the organization was staggering. To get your customers what they want when they need it with the right quality provides a lot of challenges to the organization."

He said the company manufactures and sells about 5 million pairs of footwear each year across 110 countries. Red Wing Shoe has 700 retail stores worldwide and open a new store every 10 days.

Pilla explained that many companies have stopped investing in new stores because of the competition from online and other markets. He said Red Wing shoes is still investing in "brick and mortar stores because people come in, and they get the right fit. We feel that experience allows people to get the right product and the right service level."

He also discussed retail trucks owned by the company. These trucks are filled each morning with boots and shoes, then go to an industrial site and park for the day. Workers at the site can stop at the truck during their breaks or lunch, try on footwear, and get the products they need.

With the increase of stores, factories, and distribution centers, Pilla said that "as we sit in Red Wing and manage the business on a day-to-day basis, business is running globally 24/7 in different regions of the world."

The success of the company, according to Pilla, is based on the fact that "we produce a high-quality product."