By Jim Cooper, Editor

The help wanted sign is still out at Mustang Survival, but these days it seems the Spencer manufacturer is getting few takers.

Mustang began operations last August in the former Goodrich building in the Roane Industrial Park. From an initial workforce of 20, the plant grew to 58 employees this past spring.

The current workforce is approximately 53, according to plant manager Greg Stover.

"When we started out, our pool was pretty large," Stover said. "At least we had a lot of applications. From March to July, we weren't seeing much interest."

Mustang operates as a satellite of a plant in Elizabeth that has around 80 employees. The company also operates facilities in British Columbia, Canada, and the state of Washington. It is known as an industry leader in the production of personal flotation devices, survival suits and other lifesaving apparel for customers including the U.S. military and NASA. The Coast Guard is one of Mustang's largest customers.

In April 2009, hundreds of people showed up at a Spencer job fair to fill out applications for sewing jobs. A recent job fair drew 60 potential applicants.

"I read the statistics where out of 55 counties, two or three right around here are always in the top five in unemployment," Stover said. "You would think there would have been a whole lot more interest. It could just be a sign of the times. I know we're not the only employer facing this problem."

Sewers just starting out earn $8 an hour at Mustang. After 90 days, employees are eligible for a full package of benefits.

Stover said the company remains committed to a stated goal of having 100 employees at the Spencer plant. A single shift currently works 10 hours a day Monday through Thursday, with additional hours added on Friday as needed.

Recently, that extra time has been necessary to help fulfill two recent contracts.

"Between the two facilities," Stover, also the Elizabeth plant manager, said, "we could easily use 40 to 50 more people. I could sleep better at night if we had them."

Mustang had taken in a new class of up to 20 hires for training every six to eight weeks. The latest class topped out at a dozen newcomers.

Job applications are available through WorkForce WV or by calling Mustang's human resource officer, P.J. Longfellow, at 304-275-3306.

Stover said the company is even considering offering part-time employment that could be as little as four or five hours a day for parents who might want to work while their kids are in school.

The trouble in finding employees in no way puts the future of the Spencer plant in question, according to Stover.

"We're going to keep on keeping on and try our best to staff according to our demand," he said. "I don't want there to be a paranoia that we're going to pull out. It just means we've got a lot of work to do."


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