Flooring maker adds third shift, 30 workers to Dalton facility - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Flooring maker adds third shift, 30 workers to Dalton facility

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DALTON, GA. (WRCB) -- Marketing Director Kathryn Grant gets more than a paycheck from IVC-US of Dalton. Its product is all over her kitchen and home office.

"Right now, looking at it, it just looks like a piece of flooring," she says.

Durable padded vinyl.

Dyed and textured to simulate ceramic tile or grained wood.

But pounds lighter. And hundreds, even thousands of dollars cheaper.

Seamless, at first sight. But stuck to, or easily removed from, your sub-floor.

"It's a project you can do yourself, if you're up for a DIY challenge that really, isn't a challenge."

And in a housing market in which almost half the sales of flooring products are to remodelers, it's no surprise that Belgian-based IVC is adding a third shift at Dalton, even though its first American factory has been open barely more than a year.

"This actually, is our second expansion," says Andrew Kearton, IVC-US Vice President for Manufacturing.

The thirty workers will join more than 100 production personnel, who had been working 12-hour shifts and 3-day weeks. The added shift will put workers on 8-hour days and 5-day weeks.

It also means IVC begins its second year, where many expected it to be at the end of the third.

"Dalton has a very good pool of talent here in terms of workers in a similar type of industry, Kearton says.

A free-flowing and deep pool, thanks to the Great Recession and the near-collapse of the homebuilding industry. Kearton has pored over hundreds of applications, to fill his dozens of opening.

"We have very specific concepts and processes, he says. "Experience in those would be worthwhile having. Dye-making is very important, so color-knowledge is good, as is understanding how all the processes work together."

IVC began third-shift hiring in December. Job postings on its web site, ivcgroup.com, include openings for an Electrical Engineer, a Process Engineer, Ink Maker, Quality Inspector, Claims Specialist, Credit Specialist, and a Technical Development Manager

IVC won't show us the factory itself or allow interviews with workers; citing proprietary technology and trade secrets. But the need of for those symbolizes a level of competition that offers lessons and direction as to how Dalton's flooring industry can put itself on more solid ground.

"We do not have to be just a flooring economy," says Brian Anderson, President/CEO of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber put together the $9 million worth of site work, tax breaks and worker training that persuaded IVC to build its 522,000 square foot facility in Dalton in 2009.

"They were experiencing double-digit growth even when they were shipping product here from Belgium and Luxembourg," Anderson says.

"We have a market that, from our point of view, is still to be taken," Kearton says. "We've been mostly residential market. In America, we're actually beginning to get into the commercial market."

IVC's worker training includes "extensive classroom and practical experience in safety, quality and efficiency," Grant says.

"This process takes 4-8 weeks depending on the skill set required, and all new hires must receive a full competence verification. "

"We're putting a lot more robust emphasis on the retraining aspect of getting people where they need to be," Chamber CEO Anderson says.

The investment seems to have paid off already.

"We've seen our pipeline of prospective employers grow from 20 a year, to this year, over 80," Anderson says.

Nevertheless, the Dalton-Whitfield County Metro Area ended 2011 with 12.1 percent unemployment, the highest of any metro area in Georgia. It also suffered the third-worst unemployment drop in the country; 3200 jobs or 4.9 percent of the workforce.

"We're working on the skill-gap," Anderson says. "We have jobs being posted, that go begging, even at 13 percent unemployment."

Successful applicants, Anderson adds, will be those with industry experience and additional specialized course-work.

"Higher tech means higher-paying," Anderson says. "But it also means fewer openings. You don't need as many people."

Kearton says it would be premature to discuss adding a fourth or fifth shift, but the 44-acre site has room for both.

"We have another 500,000 square feet here for an additional plant, if required."

More important, Kearton says, North Georgia has the sub-flooring, so to speak; logistical support, and the electrical, mechanical, and contracting suppliers to make growth possible.

"We looked at several sites in Georgia, and on up I-75," Kearton says. "We already had a distribution center here, but Dalton put it all together."

"We are very sure we picked the right place to be."

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