Blum, R-Anell Provide Inside Look
Two of east Lincoln’s largest employers opened their doors this week for an inside look behind the manufacturing scene. Blum, 7733 Old Plank Road, welcomed U.S. Representative Cass Ballenger and County Commission Chairman Jerry Cochrane to its 400,00 square-foot manufacturing facility in Lowesville. As part of the Lincoln Economic Development Association’s Business Appreciation Week, R-Anell opened its doors for a public tour Tuesday. One tour was open to the public, the other was reserved for government leaders. Both provided insight into the scope and magnitude of east Lincoln manufacturing. Blum – General Manager/Executive Director Karl Ruedisser and Vice President of Production David Billerman led the half hour tour of the sprawling facility. It began with an introduction to the company. Blum, a cabinet hardware manufacturer, was established in Hickory in 1977. The company chose Hickory to be near Broyhill, but moved to 75 acres in Lowesville in 1979 to be closer to Charlotte. The company stumbled across a nice home in Lincoln County, Ruedisser said. “We like it her in Lincoln County or else we wouldn’t be here,” he said. Ballenger and Cochrane, both in the manufacturing business, were intrigued with the business side of Blum’s operations. When Ruedisser explained that the company’s founder, Julius Blum, got his start molding studded horse shoes in Austria, Ballenger was impressed. “This guy had to have a lot more smarts than just a blacksmith,’ he quipped. The tour wound through the complex’s maze of throughways and tunnels. Ruedisser and Billerman showed off the company’s state-of-the-art machinery – designing, engineering and assembling hinges and drawer parts. Most of the business’ operations are automated, from the manufacturing to the warehousing to the shipping. The company employs 395 in three shifts. Ruedisser explained that their largest client picks up inventory in the morning, drives to Ohio during the day, delivers it load and uses Blum parts in its third-shift manufacturing. “I tell you something,” Ballenger said. “The Chinese will never touch it.” Ballenger was most impressed with Blum’s apprenticeship program, which helps develop skills and offers careers to high school graduates. Along with a few other regional companies, Blum allows high school students to work part-time with the company during their senior year and become full-time employees after graduation. The apprentices then take community college classes to further their education. At 21 years old, Ruedisser explained, graduates of their apprentice program can be making more than $30,000 a year. It is much like established apprenticeship programs in Europe, he said. “This is the sort of program we (the United States) need to be working towards,” Ballenger said. The tour ended with a photo opportunity. R-Anell – About 20 people enjoyed an hour long walk through of the manufacturing plant, receiving a unique home-building perspective. The tour group watched homes being built from start to finish – from construction of the steel chassis which transports the home to the final inspection of flooring and paint. The company has been in business since 1972 and builds an impressive 800 homes a year from its location on N.C. 16 in Denver. It employs about 300 people. Most impressive is the time it takes to build a home. R-Anell can construct a 3,750 square foot home in two and a half days. It takes one hour to roof a home in the company’s controlled environment. The controlled environment, away from the elements, is what allows the homes to be built with such speed, without compromising quality, Vice President of Quality Doug Williams said. “We have to deal with the stigma of mobile homes,” he said. “But these (modular) homes are built better and faster than site-built houses.” And for less, he said. The average cost of an R-Anell home is $51 per square-foot. Not only can you choose from any of R-Anell’s designs, but you can bring them a design and they’ll build it. “Our calling card is we’re a custom builder,” General Manager Andy Miller said. “Bring it in on a napkin.” The tour ended with a walk-through of the finished product, a few of R-Anell’s model homes on the TriTech sales lot next door.