Hufcor to recall workers

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Friday, July 2, 2010
— A longtime Janesville manufacturer has closed a West Coast assembly plant and will move production here, a move a local economic development official says is emblematic of the recovery Rock County is likely to experience.

Hufcor, the world’s leading producer of moveable walls and folding partitions, sold its facility in Bellflower, Calif., on Thursday.

The consolidation of production in Janesville likely will mean the recall of 25 to 30 laid-off employees, said Hufcor President Jim Landherr.

Hufcor acquired the California property in the 1980s when it bought Aircoustic Corp. The operation was renamed Hufcor Airwall.

The consolidation is the result of efforts launched in 2006 when the company introduced a new series of products based on manufacturing efficiencies.

By incorporating popular manufacturing principles such as Design for Six Sigma and LEAN, Hufcor positioned itself to handle increasing price pressures and optimize its growth, Landherr said.

“The inevitable result of such a successful undertaking is that through efficiency, innovation and automation, we have increased capacity and throughput, thus expanding our Janesville production and freeing up other assets,” he said. “We are now prepared to convert those physical assets to work for us in the next steps in our long-term strategic plan.”

Among successful manufacturers, increased efficiency and consolidation have become popular strategies.

Manufacturers who are struggling, however, let costs and overhead run out of control. They now face remnants of a recession with way too much capacity.

In Wisconsin, Mercury Marine and Harley-Davidson are recent examples. Closer to home, General Motors is another.

While Janesville came out on the wrong end of a major GM consolidation, the smaller Hufcor consolidation is an example of the community being on the right side of a downsizing, said James Otterstein, Rock County’s economic development manager.

Moves such as Hufcor’s will help rebuild the local economy, he said, adding that it’s unlikely that a new employer will parachute into Rock County with hundreds of jobs in tow.

“In today’s environment, we’re seeing more and more consolidations and facility rationalization decisions,” he said. “For those people at Hufcor in Janesville, whenever you can keep the base numbers where they are or grow them slightly, the plant’s in a better position for the next round of capital investment.

“These types of decisions—and it doesn’t matter what industry or what size company—are being made weekly.”

Landherr said the timing works well, as Hufcor is now ready to serve the regional market and its customers from its most automated plant.

“We’ve got a highly skilled, trained workforce in Janesville, and we’ve made many improvements and investments that have increased our efficiency and our capacity,” he said. “We dialed in all elements of our vertical integration, from supply chain to manufacturing, delivery on our customized fleet, installation and service.

“We are ready.”

While well positioned, Hufcor could now use a little help from the global and domestic markets its serves.

The company typically trails the economy by a year to 18 months. That’s because when economic downturns are officially deemed recessions, building projects are typically well under way.

Founded in 1900, Hufcor has plants in more than 15 countries. In Janesville, it employs about 250 people.

Last updated: 2:27 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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