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Made in the USA: Mills step up domestic efforts

April 29/May 6, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 24

By Ken Ryan

 

In 2018, 264,000 new manufacturing jobs were added in the U.S., representing the highest number of new workers since 1988. As a percent of the total workforce, manufacturing rose for the first time since 1984. Clearly, manufacturing in the U.S. has seen an uptick, and in its own small way the flooring industry is doing its part. The flooring industry’s major manufacturers are investing millions and—in some cases—billions of dollars in new domestic manufacturing to contribute to the onshoring trend.

Some flooring executives said the 10% tariff levied against Chinese imports by the Trump administration had little impact on domestic production—at least so far—because there is little capacity in place. However, others said the tariffs helped the justification for capital and the urgency to manufacture domestically. That has been the case at Mannington, which has invested heavily in domestic manufacturing over the last several years. “Those investments have worked out well for Mannington and for our customers and are performing very well,” said Russell Grizzle, president and CEO, Mannington Mills. “We plan to continue this trend across all products. The most immediate is the startup of the new rigid core LVT plant in the next few months.” In the last few years Grizzle said the company added over 400 jobs in the U.S.

In the past four years, Mohawk Industries has invested in eight plants to the tune of at least $700 million. Just as impressive, 90% of what the company produces is being sold here at home. From South Carolina to Washington, Mohawk operates manufacturing facilities representing every category of product, including carpet, hardwood, vinyl, ceramic and resilient. In all, it employs more than 20,000 U.S. employees.

In recent years, Shaw has invested more than $1.5 billion in its U.S. operations, including expansion and modernization efforts throughout the Southeast and across a wide variety of flooring categories such as resilient, carpet and hardwood. At the same time, it has hired more than 600 associates over the past year. “The benefits of manufacturing close to the customer include a deep understanding of customer preference, quicker turnaround time and greater opportunities for innovation,” said Tim Baucom, president. “Superior innovation comes from having design, engineering, manufacturing and other functions in close proximity to one another.”

Baucom said Shaw’s agility in the current market has allowed it to increase not only production, but also create increasingly high-skilled employment opportunities in local communities.

Domestic manufacturing is nothing new at Armstrong Flooring. As senior vice president Dominic Rice pointed out, U.S. production is part of the company’s DNA, which started 150 years ago. In recent years, Armstrong Flooring has emphasized the wide range of resilient flooring that it manufactures domestically through a “Made in USA” initiative with online campaigns and designations on its website, in product literature, and even emblazoned on the floor of its booth at Surfaces. “For the most part, we manufacture product in the same market where it is sold, so most of what we manufacture in North America is sold here,” Rice said.

Armstrong Flooring manufactures a wide range of resilient flooring in the U.S., including Vivero and Natural Creations LVT in Lancaster, Pa., American Personality 12 LVT, made in Stillwater, Okla., and Alterna engineered tile in Kankakee, Ill. It also manufactures VCT, its BBT bio-based flooring and vinyl sheet domestically.

The advantages of domestic manufacturing allow companies like Mannington to control its own destiny. “If we manufacture locally, it is easier to plan and meet the demands of our customers in both service and design,” Grizzle said. “We prefer to invest more in state-of-the-art equipment that is flexible to these demands rather than long supply chains and inventory that can quickly become obsolete with changes in the marketplace.”

Manufacturing in the U.S. also gives companies greater product control, improved lead times and the ability to rapidly integrate customer feedback into the product design and development cycle. “Domestic manufacturing puts us in close proximity to raw materials, such as the limestone that is a key ingredient in a number of our products,” Rice said. “Locating production close to both raw materials and end markets reduces transportation costs and the related environmental impact.”

The increase in domestic pro- duction among flooring manufacturers comes amidst a shortage in skilled labor that has negatively impacted every industry. To help drive innovation in both product and processes, Armstrong started an engineering leadership development program that recruits graduates from engineering colleges and gives them an opportunity to work in multiple roles, departments and locations in their first few years. “This provides them with a valuable overview of our company,” Rice said. “In the communities where we operate manufacturing facilities, we have a legacy as a long-time employer, offering internal development resources and opportunities for leaders to advance their careers in a global company.”

Baucom noted that as technology and manufacturing sophistication continue to evolve, this fast-changing landscape requires innovative workers. To that end, Shaw is taking steps to “ensure the workforce of the future is ready to meet any challenges and create innovative solutions for our company.”

As well, Mohawk has been actively hiring skilled individuals for highly automated jobs at its various plants. “The technical expertise required for most of our new plants is at an associate engineer level,” said Tom Lape, president of Mohawk Residential. “So, we are expanding the right type of employment.”