Flanders up and running in old Kaz plant

GREENPORT–Southern accents graced the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Flanders Corporation manufacturing plant Wednesday. This is, after all, a company headquartered in Washington, NC, and senior staff, including Harry Smith, chairman and CEO, had flown in for the occasion.

Also on hand were many of Greenport’s approximately 100 Flanders workers, including management, mechanics, fork-lift operators and line operators, almost all wearing turquoise T-shirts with “Flanders–Foremost in Air Filtration” on the back.

After short speeches emceed by Ken Flood, county planning and economic development commissioner, and a long red ribbon cut into several pieces, the workers went back to the floor and the guests were taken on tours of the facility.

Last June Mr. Flood announced that Flanders had purchased the former Kaz plant on Route 9, just outside Hudson. Six months and $3 million later, the plant is officially up and running. In fact, workers have been producing air filters there since mid-September. The plant runs in two 10- hour shifts weekdays and one 12-hour shift (mostly automated) Saturday and Sunday.

Flanders workers — all full-time — are not unionized. They get two paid 15-minute breaks per day, morning and afternoon, and a half-hour unpaid lunch, so they’re on site 10 and-a-half hours. Starting pay for the production line is $7.50 per hour, with reviews after 90 and 120 days.

The factory floor is noisy from the sound of machines, as might be expected. It is also clean and well lighted, with high ceilings. Safety signs are printed in English, Spanish and Bengali. No clocks were immediately visible on the walls.

This reporter took a tour with Kevin Boyd, senior vice president of equipment and facilities. At 210,000 square feet, the Greenport plant is relatively small among Flanders’ 13 U.S. facilities, he said. With that number of plants, shipping is kept to a minimum; Greenport is the base for sales in the Northeast, to stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart. Flanders also distributes air filters under the Ace and True Value brand names, seen locally. It makes air filters for all kinds of uses: residential, commercial, hospital, even nuclear power plants.

Flanders lists $225 million in assets and listed over $71 million inn sales for the quarter that ended last September 30.

Mr. Boyd has been with Flanders for 29 years. “Harry [Smith] pulled me out to focus on automation. That’s what allowed us to come to the Northeast and pay the rates here,” he said. Mr. Boyd continues to work on automating the corporation’s manufacturing. Nevertheless, Mr. Smith said that ultimately he looks to employ between 300 and 350 people at the Greenport plant.

First hired in Greenport were about 10 maintenance workers, and then “light industrial” workers for the “hand-line” production, work done by or under the direct supervision of workers. Now the company is looking more for machine operating skills, as it automates further.

Last June, when Flanders announced it would buy the old Kaz plant, the air filter company said it expected to hire between 150 and 200 people when it was operating at full capacity. Kaz had a workforce of between 450 and 500 before it relocated its manufacturing operations to Mexico several years ago.

The festivities concluded with a buffet lunch catered by The Cascades in Hudson. It was a huge spread, with plenty for all, because as the guests departed, the turquoise T-shirted workers lined up for lunch on the company.

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