Wednesday, January 14, 2004/lk
Production started last week at a Hood River manufacturing firm, just in time for some unemployed workers to receive the perfect holiday gift — a new job.
Homeshield has one assembly line up and running and sent off its first shipment of window and door parts to customers on Friday. The company managed to be in operation in less than 12 weeks after moving into the former Western Power building at the waterfront. Scott Bennett, manager of the new plant, credits the overhaul of the 36,000 square foot structure to the efforts of a sister company in Chatsworth, Ill., and his five new local employees. He is having three other lines built and will dedicate one to supply parts for Cardinal Glass Industries of Odell when production begins in mid-January. Bennett is currently hiring between eight to 12 more workers to man the high-tech equipment — and finding plenty of well-qualified applicants.
“Not having labor as an issue is very exciting, it’s something I’m not use to and which will allow us to focus on our customers and avoid a high turnover rate,” he said.
Bennett relocated from Rice Lake, Wis., to oversee the new operation and said the low unemployment rate of between 3-4 percent in that city made it very difficult to find and retain personnel. He is pleased to be able to provide some family wage jobs to dislocated timber, agriculture and aluminum workers from the Mid-Columbia.
Homeshield produces custom and standard spacers, grills and screens for window and door manufacturers using roll form and cladding technology. Its parent company, Quanex Corporation, is based in Houston, Texas, and is a leading manufacturer of engineered materials and components for the vehicular and building products markets.
Bennett said Quanex has about 3,300 employees at divisions in Rice Lake, Chatsworth, and Moundsview, Minn.; Luck, Wis.; and Richmond, Ind. He said every one of these workers is invited to contribute ideas for increasing the efficiency of operations.
“There is a very supportive climate in this company, it comes down from the corporate office that you are not just a company to make a profit, you’re part of the community — and it’s all tied together because if your people aren’t happy then that isn’t good for the workplace,” Bennett said.
In fact, he said Quanex has adopted “lean” manufacturing principles that involve intense problem solving sessions by employees whenever a challenge arises. He said once a specific production need is identified at any plant, workers arrive from across the United States to brainstorm for solutions. Homeshield employees are also given total ownership of their lines, even performing their own quality checks.
“You really get a snowball effect, people find out they can make changes, they can make the job easier and have a direct effect on the bottom line and that really catches on,” Bennett said.
Each division of Quanex is independently operated and Bennett said Hood River now houses the first Homeshield satellite facility and the first operation to be located on the West Coast. The local firm will serve customers throughout California, Oregon and Washington.
“Now we’re within hours of these different locations and that’s exciting for us, we see this business growing drastically and continually,” Bennett said.
Within a three week period, Bennett packed up and moved his wife, Jill and their three children to the Gorge — arriving the day before school started. His daughter Alysha, 13, and sons, Taren, 11, and Tyler, 6, are now settling in to their classes in Hood River schools and making new friends. Bennett said the family believes the winter weather in the Gorge will seem almost balmy compared to the howling winds and driving snow that brought temperatures in Wisconsin down to 36 degree below zero.
“I have been pleasantly surprised by the reception from the port, business leaders and economic groups, it makes it easier not only for the family but for the business as well,” he said.
Bennett believes part of the warm welcome extended to Homeshield is based upon its strong record of ecosystem protection and involvement in community activities.
“We’d like to step out and show that manufacturing is good, that in today’s world by working safe and smart you can provide an environmentally-friendly company and still maintain the bottom line,” he said.
Homeshield holds a three-year lease on the waterfront building and is scouting for a permanent home in preparation for long-term growth. Bennett believes that the community of Hood River is a good fit for a branch of the corporation that promotes a “We Can Do It Better” culture and posted sales of about $994 million in 2002.
“We really find that we enjoy being in smaller communities than in metro areas, the way we like to work seems to fit better,” he said.