Company has seen workforce grow by 50% in the past two years
The pounding of powerful presses on the shop floor sends an audible message to anyone who visits the Kickhaefer Manufacturing Co. plant (also known as KMC) on South Park Street in Port Washington.
That message? Business is booming.
The company, which traces its roots to 1908, is in the midst of an unprecedented growth pattern.
From 2010 to 2012, the industrial stamping company saw its workforce grow by 24%. That kind of expansion could be seen as a fluke, except it hasn’t stopped during the past two years — when employment increased another 50%.
The company runs two full shifts.
There are nearly two dozen jobs waiting to be filled at the company, too. Those openings were created by increased demand for product and in-house promotions.
“When we fill those vacancies, we should have 325 people working at KMC,” said Sue Geldreich, the company’s senior human resources manager.
Those openings are in skilled technical areas, like welders and press operators, as well as a variety of management and sales positions.
The key to the company’s ongoing success, according to KMC President Gerry Schwarz, starts with remembering who pays the bills.
“It is not really a secret. We place an emphasis on meeting and exceeding the expectations of our customers,” Schwarz said.
Those customers represent some of the largest names in the automotive, heavy equipment and trucking industries.
“We are not a company like Allen-Edmonds or John Deere which has its name on all of its product lines,” Schwarz said.
“But our components are used in virtually every platform — every name brand — of the automotive industry.”
The company’s products range from small clamps to carefully engineered assemblies that meet ISO 9001:2008 and ISO/TS 16949:2009 certifications.
During the past 12 months, KMC has added some sophisticated machinery to its production lines.
They include a 330-ton Aida straight side servo press, a new extrusion machine, a laser etching system and a Bancroft Welda-Round system.
The value of that expanded arsenal of machinery is about $2 million.
“By making that kind of investment in people and equipment, it makes a statement that we intend to be a part of the community for a long time,” Schwarz said.
The company has grown to the point it needs four production facilities, including the primary plant and corporate headquarters on Park Street.
Last year, it expanded into the former Bolens Manufacturing plant on Mineral Springs Road. It also has facilities in Fredonia and Milwaukee.
Although many manufacturing companies have moved their operations to foreign countries to take advantage of lower labor costs, Schwarz said KMC likes being where it is.
“This area, and Wisconsin in general, has a reputation for a skilled, dedicated workforce. We are very happy with the quality of workers we are able to attract here,” he said.
The company has been active in promoting manufacturing careers through apprenticeships, job shadowing and employment fairs, Geldreich said. Company representatives have been active supporters of the STEM program in the Port Washington-Saukville School District.
“A lot of young people are turned off by the idea of factory work, but there are many different career tracks to follow in manufacturing. We have had people start here in assembly jobs who we have encouraged to get two-year degrees and then progress to jobs in design and even in engineering,” Geldreich said.
She said her father was a tool-and-die maker, so she has a lifelong appreciation for factory work.
“You could say manufacturing is in my blood,” Geldreich said
She said the company prides itself in creating a welcoming environment that encourages worker longevity.
“On the first day of work, each new employee gets a personalized card from Gerry and a little gift,” Geldreich said. “It is just our way of saying they are valued as employees and they are important to us.”
Schwarz said he is not concerned that the company is any where near over-extending itself.
“As long as we keep our focus on customers and attracting good workers and the economy cooperates, I don’t see any reason why this growth shouldn’t continue,” he said.