U.S.-Made Furniture Producers Boost Workforce Training
BY MIKE DUFFON
NEW YORK— Made in the U.S.A. means new things today than might have been the case a few years ago, and flexibility in pursuing the goal of boosting manufacturing in the U.S. has helped generate success and investment to keep growing.
In part, investment has taken the form of a new plant, whether in terms of building and machinery, but companies also are putting money into people, training and educating a new generation of American workers.
Meco Corp., for example, has been “spending money on infrastructure and equipment, and we’ve been reinvesting in the plant,” said company president Mark Proffitt.
Meco, he said, always has had a primary mission of providing jobs in the vicinity of its Greeneville, TN, plant. However, as with other manufacturing companies, Meco developed capabilities outside the U.S. as well. Over the past several years, though, the company has been investing to expand its capacity, capitalizing on a changing economy where speed to market and the ability to rapidly restock matters. In addition to direct manufacturing, Meco also does contract manufacturing at its plant and is looking for additional customers it can help to develop or reshore product manufacturing.
Proffitt said the investment in plant and equipment always is made with more in mind than the immediate project that required it.
“When we invest in a piece of equipment, nine times out of 10 we’re not buying the exact capacity needed for the job but buying what we will need for the future as well,” he said.
The equipment and plant are only part of the equation, however. Meco is investing in people as well, putting funds behind everything from basic to advanced technical training. The company also is reaching out to nearby technical schools and high schools to let them know there are opportunities near at hand.
“We’ve spent more in the past three or four years than in the 15 before,” Proffitt said. “We’re coaching, guiding them in a direction that, as they come through the education system, they could be looking for those opportunities.”
From its headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Statesville, NC, Homestar North America has been investing not only in machinery but labor, adding employees in pace with the growth of its business with Walmart, which continues to invest in support of U.S. manufacturing.
To gear up, Steve Miller, Homestar’s president, said the company is currently in the process of adding 40 to 60 jobs at its facility.
“You have some sleepless nights because it can be hard to get good people and get them trained,” he said.
As it has expanded U.S. operations, the company has looked to become more efficient. The investment in people is equally and perhaps more critical in a good economy. Miller said a lot of businesses in and around Statesville are hiring. As such, Homestar is trying to find the best people it can then educate so they have the tools to be effective.
“If we can just find somebody with aptitude, we’ll pay for education,” Miller said. “We’ll do whatever it takes. We’ve sent several to colleges. Most of the people who really know this machinery are at retirement age. We’re getting people who have mechanical inclination and training them.”
On the flip side, Brent Gingerich, evp/sales and marketing at Sauder Woodworking, said the challenge regarding finding and retaining good employees has prompted the company to invest in equipment.
“Most of our strategy revolves around automation since we have a hard time getting enough employees,” he said. “Purchasing robots and Cobots for the factory and installing a large ASRS— automated storage and retrieval— system in our distribution center.”
Sauder, certainly, isn’t shy about investing in labor when it is feasible, itself employing the staff behind an award-winning customer service operation and others who play critical roles in supporting the operations.
“Our Ohio-based consumer service department along with full-time designers and merchants are differentiators,” Gingerich said.