ON THE BRINK OF EXPANSION – B&W nears completion of 106,000 square-foot addition

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December 12, 2013 - 12:00 AM

HUMBOLDT — B&W Trailer Hitches is on the brink of its largest expansion yet, and due to increases in production and employment, it is coming just in time.
“We have outgrown our current plant,” Mike Mueller, plant manager, said bluntly during an interview Wednesday afternoon. Workers’ space has been limited in the plant, he said, and the new 106,000 square foot building just to the north will be just what they need.
The current buildings have 260,000 square feet of space. Welding machines, laser cutters and storage space have filled up the floor of the plant slowly since Joe Works  and Roger Baker started the business in 1987.
While it isn’t the only expansion — Mueller said he remembers six expansions since he started in 1999, with more prior to that — it is the largest the company has undertaken. Perhaps it’s a sign of better times across the area, as B&W is one of the largest employers in the area.
“We see the economy turning around, and we want to be ready for that,” Mueller said.
Sally Manbeck, the corporate administrator for the plant, said it is important to recognize that the company’s expansions are always carefully thought out and held until the most opportune time.
“You want to make sure the growth is maintained,” she said.
“…not reacting to spikes (in the economy),” Mueller added.

Ground was broken for the expansion, located on the northernmost side of the complex, in September. Crossland Construction is handling the major construction for the project, while an in-house construction team is handling some of the smaller projects.
Mueller admitted that an expansion as large as this one can put some pressure on the employees. Although, he said the space is needed more than ever, for the employees’ safety and efficiency.
“It’s challenging for everybody, the burden is on everybody,” Mueller said. “But it also benefits everybody in the end.”
The building is set to be completed in January, and then crews will begin moving the heavy equipment into the new space. Mueller said two-thirds of the space will be used for the machines — lasers, robotic welders and fabrication machines — and the other third will be used for storage and loading. They have added four loading docks for large trucks.
“We have been growing across all of our product lines,” Mueller said. He and Manbeck sat in the company’s conference room, across from the blueprint laying out the new expansion.
Manbeck said the company’s goal is one of economic sustainability, both in the marketplace and the community. Years of planning from Works and his employees has left ample space on the grounds.
Since January 2012, B&W added around 80 employees, making the total over 290. Once they complete the expansion, they will be looking to add another 20 from the get-go.
Mueller added that the new expansion is meant to space out the employees and equipment primarily, not just to add. Although, that is a goal as well. He said the RV market for B&W has expanded over the past several years, and it takes up a significant amount of factory space.

“THERE’S A real relationship between the work ethic and the success of B&W,” Mueller said.
They have always put an emphasis on making their products in the U.S.A, which leads to a bigger commitment of time and space for the company. Both he and Manbeck agreed that it is well worth it.
“It really resounds loudly with them (their customers),” Manbeck said. Mueller added that it helps them manage the quality of their products.
“The downside is primarily the cost,” Mueller said of doing so much of the production process in-house. “But we don’t have to do it cheaper, we just have to do it better.”
Purchases made by Works in 2009 and 2012 have increased the work of the B&W plant, as well as opened new doors for productions, Manbeck said. One of the purchases was the Biker Bar, a clamping bar meant for towing motorcycles.
“We have sustained this growth for the past couple of years,” she said.
Mueller said the company is always looking to expand into a new market or new product, and they are keeping their eyes on the horizon, while keeping their feet firmly planted in Allen County.
“We have never considered expanding our business elsewhere,” he said. “Joe (Works) always said, ‘if we can create a job in Humboldt, why create it anywhere else.’”
It hasn’t seemed to hurt its business either, if the nearly completed building to the north is of any indication.

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