Columbia Flooring in Melbourne has a new cooperate owner, a new plant manager and a new third shift which has created 75 additional jobs for the area.
In August, Mohawk Industries purchased from Columbia Forest Products the Melbourne plant as well as three other solid wood and engineering plants located in Holden, W.Va., Danville, Virg., and Malaysia.
"We're excited to have the recognition of Mohawk Industries here in this plant," said Plant Manager Tommy Adkins. "Mohawk is a very, very large floor covering company, and we've become a member of a huge family."
Adkins took over as plant manager in May following the retirement of long-time plant manager Steve Gates.
"I started working here in 1986 when the factory was Color Tile," Adkins said. "I started with a weed swing -- a manual weedeater -- chopping the grass all the way around the plant. Since then, I've worked in almost every area of this plant, from the lumberyard, to the mill, to the finish line. I like to know what's going on in the next step, and it's promoted me along through the years."
Adkins says the flooring industry is strong and through careful cost analysis and quality control the Melbourne plant has remained competitive and profitable.
"We've seen the ups and downs here, just like everybody else, but there's always been a demand for flooring whether it's for a remodel or new construction," Adkins said. That need is one of the reasons Columbia Flooring is expanding its workforce today.
The manufacturing plant at Melbourne began production in 1978 as Color Tile producing parquet flooring. It went through an ownership change when it was purchased by North American Products, who operated it until Mannington Wood Floors purchased the plant. Mannington operated it until 1994-95 when the plant closed.
"We were primarily a parquet flooring plant during that time," Adkins said. "The parquet flooring industry was dying and today is almost dead. Mannington brought in a engineered operation to run along with the parquet flooring. We had this small market (plywood) to try and Band-Aide the parquet market, and it just wasn't a big enough Band-Aide."
The plant remained closed until July of 1996 when Century Flooring reopened the plant. The plant was owned by multiple business partners including North Pacific, whose main office was in Portland, Ore., and Arkansas businessman James Bibler.
"They started the plant back up and we began making 3/4-inch solid wood flooring," Adkins said. "Over time, one of the owners wanted to retire and sold their share of the business to Columbia Forest Products. In 2003 Columbia became the sole owner of the plant until this August when Mohawk Industries purchased it."
Adkins said the acquisition is a positive move for the plant.
"Mohawk Industries is huge. They do carpet, ceramics, tile, laminant flooring and more. They had been purchasing products from Columbia and finally decided to get into the manufacturing side," Adkins said.
New shift, new jobs
On Oct. 1, Columbia Flooring began a third shift in their mill.
"For our (wood flooring) finishing line to operate on two shifts we've always run our mill as a two shift operation, but that doesn't support enough for the finishing line. For the past several years we have purchased unfinished flooring from other facilities and finished them here," Adkins said. "Today, with high fuel prices and everything else, it's not cost effective to do that. We can machine all of our own unfinished flooring here to support the finish line cheaper than we can buy it outside the plant. So, that's what's driven us to start this new shift."
Although the finish line area of the plant has operated with a third shift in the past, this is the first time the mill area has seen the extra shift.
"A lot of people have worked their tails off the last few months getting this plan put together," Adkins said. "We will have 60 employees in the mill's third shift but we will hire about 75 people. In order to bring the mill up to three shifts, we have to increase our lumber availability so that forces us to run three shifts in our lumber yard."
Adkins said it was a great feeling to have accomplished this in such a short time.
"We're excited about all of this. It's rolling along. It's a lot of work putting this thing together, but the end result will give us something to puff our chest out about. We did it. It worked," Adkins said.
Human Resources Manager Lacey Johnson says the plant is accepting applications Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. "Applicants need to apply in person at our front lobby. In normal times we accept applications for a period of time, then stop. But for the foreseeable future we will continue to accept them everyday."
Johnson says Columbia Flooring offers competitive wages and an attractive benefit package. "We offer health insurance, medical, dental, short term disability, 401K with an appealing company match, life insurance, prescription, paid vacation, paid holidays and an Employee Assistant Program. It's a good place to work," she said.
Columbia Flooring employs over 300 people. "Our jobs are not attractive to a lot of people," Adkins said. "They are physical labor jobs. But, we offer good competitive wages and a safe workplace."
Johnson said the mill's new third shift will start the week off on Sunday night from 9:30 p.m. until 5:30 a.m.; the first shift works 5:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.; and the second shift works from 1:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
"Our employees also have the chance to move into different jobs and different pay grades. We try to promote all our jobs from the inside," Adkins said. "If we have an employee that has the qualifications and the skill to perform at the next level and wants to move into that opening, they have the opportunity to do so. This procedure has allowed me to move up through the process, and if people want to excel and move up, it's up to them."
With the increase in the number of employees at Columbia, the first step in preparing for the added work force was to enlarge the parking area. "This was one of those hidden needs," Adkins said. "We were moving ahead with the hiring process and realized we were going to need a bigger parking area and quick."
Expansion of the lumber yard and dry kiln capacity are also underway. "We needed to expand our lumber yard to support the third shift. It's going to take more wood, and we've added another big forklift to help move the lumber pallets. We're also expanding our dry kiln capacity which we hope to have up and running shortly after the first of the year."
Another long-range goal for the facility is to produce 100 percent of its own electricity. Currently the plant's steam powered turbine produces 60 percent of the power needed to operate the huge facility. The plant has it's own well and burns sawdust from it's operation to generate electricity to heat the plant in the winter and to run the dry kilns for the lumber. The sawdust not burned is sold to a charcoal manufacturer.
"We've got the dust -- plenty of fuel -- but we've got a lot of irons in the fire right now so that is something we may look into in the future," Adkins said.
A saying that Columbia Flooring tries to live up to is, "from the tree to the box." The company strives to use every part of the tree to manufacture everything from high end elite flooring, to rough cut flooring, to the sawdust.
"We are known for our quality," Adkins said. "I contribute our success to the employees here. We have a good solid core of employees that get the job done. Quality in a box is what sells our flooring."
The name of the facility will remain Columbia Flooring as a subsidiary of Mohawk Industries.
"We're excited to be a part of Mohawk Flooring and look forward to a brighter future," Adkins said.
The Melbourne plant is located on Highway 9S. The phone number is 870-368-4000.