Firing on all Cylinders
Production is ramping up at KOHLER Engines’ Hattiesburg manufacturing facility and gaining steady speed. In the last quarter of 2015, KOHLER Engines continued its success in Hattiesburg with the announcement of a $7.5M facility expansion and over 100 new jobs in response to rampant increase in demand for the company’s newest technology in engineering and design.
Located in the Hattiesburg-Forrest County Industrial Park, Kohler manufactures and assembles a variety of lawn mower and tractor engines and has proven to be a staple in Greater Hattiesburg’s diverse manufacturing base. This global manufacturing company was initially attracted to the region largely thanks to Mississippi Power’s “Spec Building Program” which facilitated the construction of the 200,000 sq. ft. industrial facility in the mid-1990’s. The newly constructed and available industrial building allowed Kohler to quickly begin operations and greatly reduce time-to-market. Since opening up operations in 1998, Kohler has earned an almost 20-year rapport of manufacturing excellence, while creating over 400 new jobs. With the recent expansion in Hattiesburg, KOHLER Engines is poised to satisfy a growing customer base over the next few years and beyond.
“We’ve had tremendous growth in the consumer ride engines market. Since the Hattiesburg facility makes the vast majority of these type engines, we’ve seen the volume in this plant grow by 40 percent within the last 18-24 months,” says Jerry Stone, KOHLER Engines’ Hattiesburg Plant Manager. “Relentless power, legendary performance.” With volume increases of 40 percent, KOHLER Engines’ Hattiesburg facility has proven this phrase is much more than marketing. Rather, power and performance are consistent deliverables in Kohler’s impressive well-established production portfolio. With a long-standing track record of toptier performance quality in the commercial and residential markets, KOHLER Engines continues its stride of innovation with the development of new engine models that boast the company’s closedloop electronic fuel injection (EFI) technology.
KOHLER Engines is leaning forward into a future of sustainable growth in Greater Hattiesburg with the production of new twin-cylinder engine lines. The Confidant models, 7000 Series and 6000 Series, are designed for zero-turn radius (ZTR) in the consumer ride and light commercial markets. In addition to an estimated 25 percent fuel savings as compared to a carbureted engine, the new Confidant EFI models utilize Kohler’s closed-loop system, meaning that the air/fuel mixture is automatically monitored and adjusted to ensure optimal use, efficiency, and reliability.
“When the EFI technology was introduced in the automobile market, it kind of all went there,” says Stone. “The primary benefit of the new technology is fuel efficiency, which might not initially sound too important for lawn mower and tractor engines. But as you get more into the people that make their living with these units, it makes a big difference.”
Fuel savings is not the only improvement to be seen in the new engine lines. With the newest EFI engines, consumers can use their end product just like a car, with the introduction of KOHLER’s turnkey start design. This feature provides easy starts in any condition even after long periods of storage, making for fewer start-up hindrances and enhanced customer usability. Driven by an effort to maximize consumer profit and convenience, KOHLER Engines’ front-running craftsmanship and design in the new twin-cylinder engines speak to their long-term reputation in durability and reliability.
Kohler’s expansion has translated into many new hires for the Hattiesburg manufacturer, bringing on over 100 new full-time jobs and around 100 temporary workers as well. With a total of 400 fulltime employees and approximately 420 contract workers, KOHLER Engines total plant employment is well over the 800 threshold.
With over 26,000 college students in a 30-mile radius of Kohler’s facility, Stone is making sure to fully leverage workforce advantages in the Hattiesburg market. With student and co-op programs in place, KOHLER Engines is utilizing its college-town surroundings as a talent pool for future workforce and training.
Trey Smith, Senior Human Resources Generalist for KOHLER Engines, has also noticed significant labor draw from nearby student populations in response to the offered programs. “We’ve actually got students in the plant now from Pearl River Community College, Jones County Junior College, William Carey University and Southern Miss. We’ve even had some from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College come up to work part-time. It’s a great opportunity that works around students’ school schedules, while giving them incredible exposure to the industry.”
Smith also shared that the Hattiesburg facility has hired many graduates from machining programs through Pearl River Community College and Jones County Junior College as full-time employees. Armed with the benefit of machining experience in real-world industry, students that have taken advantage of the Kohler experience have acquired a combination of technical skills both from the classroom and the plant floor, a powerful combination learning and training components.
Through collaboration with the Area Development Partnership, Pearl River Community College, and South Mississippi Planning and Development District (SMPDD), KOHLER Engines has also taken advantage of a local workforce development program called Pine Belt Works. The program is designed to equip existing workforce with basic manufacturing skills to ensure the local manufacturing community has a qualified labor pool to draw from. Kohler, alongside several other local manufacturers, has successfully leveraged Pine Belt Works as a source of qualified candidates. One specific Pine Belt Works graduate has played a vital role in the twin-cylinder engine production process: Teresa Paige. Paige was hired in July of 2015 and has worked her way up as a Set Up C on the third shift for the Twin Cylinder Assembly operations.
“Teresa is really the ideal model for the Pine Belt Works program. She is doing a very good job for us,” says Smith.
Over the past few years at the Hattiesburg facility, Stone has led large capacity and production growth while KOHLER Engines continues to build momentum. In establishing a competitive advantage of quality control, Kohler’s leadership has focused on minimizing problems for its products’ end users. “In this market, quality makes the biggest difference. We’ve become a very high quality manufacturer of small engines, and that’s what has really driven our growth,” says Stone.
Looking ahead into KOHLER Engines’ bright future, Stone also anticipates further growth and development to occur at the Hattiesburg plant in the coming years. “We expect our business over the next five years to grow a little more than market. Of course, you do that by being competitive and making high quality products. We think we can take market share. We see continued growth here. More capital being spent, new machinery, new technology. We have a very aggressive capital plan over the next three years.”
Undoubtedly, Kohler has established itself as a staple manufacturer in the Hattiesburg area. With plans for future development, the Hattiesburg plant’s leadership continues to strive for heightened market success. From capital investment to lawn mower engines, it is safe to say that KOHLER Engines is, indeed, firing on all cylinders.