In the almost 50 years Nakatetsu Machining Technologies has been in existence, the company has never laid off one single employee — not even during the tightest times of the most recent recession.
The Washington County plant, which opened in fall 2007, has even added employees since its inception. A work force that began as 14 has now reached 55 full-timers, according to administration manager Jeff Carter.
“In early summer 2009, all industries were very lean,” Carter said. “But we found work for all our full-time employees to do, whether it was cleaning bathrooms or painting. Then ‘Cash for Clunkers’ came along, and we’ve been busy since then. We have even added machine lines to keep up with Koyo.”
Koyo, Nakatetsu’s sister company and neighbor in the Washington County Industrial Park, announced a more than $30 million, 61,000-square-foot expansion in late 2010, which will take its manufacturing plant up to 140,000 square feet by next summer. The company also plans on taking its work force from 60 to 125 by 2014.
Nakatetsu is the sole bearing parts supplier to Koyo, which produces taper roller bearings used in vehicle axle and transmission systems for Toyota, Honda, Ford, GM, Chrysler and BMW.
Takeshi Kasai, Nakatetsu’s vice president and plant manager, said the Washington County plant has had to expand equally to handle the demand, aside from hiring more employees.
Since 2007, the building has seen two additions and is in the midst of its third, scheduled to be completed in November. The plant’s original square footage of 71,000 will grow to 92,000, Kasai said.
The expansions, though good news, weren’t expected from the beginning, Carter said, but the company was running out of room for operations and is still dealing with parking issues from expanding its work force.
Carter, along with manufacturing manager Bill Allison, have been employed at the plant since 2007, and they credit the success to Nakatetsu’s corporate culture.
“The way of business is different in Japan,” Carter said. “There is a sense of commitment from the company to the employees, and then from the employees to the company. We had that in the U.S. 20 or 30 years ago, but we’ve gotten away from that.”
Carter said since 2007, Nakatetsu has had about five or six employees leave the company, and all of those left to go back to school.
Nakatetsu owner Katsumi Okita visits the location several times a year from Japan. When he arrives in Washington County, he always greets employees on all shifts, making time to have conversations and ask about their families and hobbies.
Since the majority of employees are machine operators, Allison said the overall organization is lean and flat, without a typical pyramid power structure.
“At any point in the day, you might see someone from any level working a machine,” he said.
Added Carter: “There’s not a feeling of, ‘That’s not my job.’”
That team atmosphere stems from all employees sharing a set of experiences and skills, Allison said.
“The first things employees learn in training, whether they’re the accountant or the owner, is how to operate the machines,” he said. “All the employees are familiar with the machines. All of them, even our CEO, can take them apart and put them back together.”
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge said he is extremely happy with the industrial park’s success, and said Nakatetsu sets an example for corporate cultures. He is hoping the county’s relationship with its existing businesses, including Nakatetsu, and a new streamlined recruitment approach through the Washington County Economic Development Council will mean more development success for the county.
“Even in 2008 and 2009, (Nakatetsu) worked all of their employees full-time, every day of every week. Their typical hourly wage puts them above the average earnings for area, and they have excellent benefits,” he said. “Turnover is very low, because of the way they treat their employees, like family. This is the exact kind of company we are talking about when we talk about recruiting businesses.”