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November 7, 2013

Brighter economic news: Paris, Ill., plant to hire 300 workers by end of 2014

PARIS, ILL. — North American Lighting Inc. is looking to hire 300 bright lights at its Paris, Ill., plant by the end of next year.

The company is seeking to hire 180 of those new employees in just 16 weeks — by March — to meet its 2014 production plan. Entry-level pay ranges from $14 to $18 an hour plus benefits.

“We need good people,” said plant manager Kevin Moore on Thursday during an announcement of a hiring push at the company’s plant at 2277 S. Main St. in Paris. Positions include operators, technicians, material handlers and shift supervisors.

The company broke ground in May on a 222,000-square-foot addition, which will nearly double the existing 262,000-square-foot plant. Construction on the expansion, which sparked the need for additional workers, may be complete by March.

The Paris plant produces 10,500 head lamps per day and expects to increase that number through 2016, Moore said. The plant began with 367 employees in 2002 and has grown to 814 workers this year.

North American Lighting and Lake Land College have partnered to form an eight-week  training program. The first course began last month and represents the method the company will seek to fill its employment gap.

Students attend a training class from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, for eight weeks. The course is $1,724.80 and financial aid is available, Bullock said.

“The benefit is we are giving [the program students] job ready skills. We are requiring them to show up on time. If they miss a day or don’t show up when they are supposed to, they are out of the program,” Bullock said.

That teaches the skill set of being reliable, he said. “They will have skin in the game by paying tuition, so we know they are truly engaged in wanting to work for North American Lighting,” Bullock said.

The students work in pairs to learn how to collaborate as they would on the shop floor. “We think we are giving the job ready skills, in addition to the technical skills, that will help them be successful once they get to North American Lighting,” Bullock said.

More about the program can be found at www.lakelandcollege.edu.

Graduates of the program go through a six-week paid training period at North American Lighting.

Greg Conrad, president and chief operating officer, has been with the company since 1980. He began with Hella KG, which then merged with the Koito Group to form North American Lighting in 1983. The Koito Group became sole owner in 2001.

“We have grown every year, except 2001, because of 9/11, which had a dip, and except in 2008-2009 because of the economic issue, but it was controlled” growth, he said. “I am not sure that is now. We are growing really fast now.”

“We have increased our market share and there have been technology changes, with LED headlamps … which is taking off in this country now,” Conrad said. “Our expansion is for the additional headlamp business, not all LED.”

The increase in market share, Conrad said, is from its current customers of General Motors, Nissan, Honda, Toyota and Ford and for models such as Ford Mustang, Toyota Corolla and Highlander, Lexus RX 350 and Cadillac SRX. The plant also produces for Subaru, Infiniti, Nissan, Honda and Acura. The plant produces the only headlamp in North America for Lexus, Moore said.

Conrad said the U.S. vehicle production has grown. The U.S. auto market is forecast to hit a fifth straight year of growth for just the second time since World War II. Auto sales exceeded the 16 million pace in August for the first time in six years.

Conrad said the company initially looked to build a new facility, instead of expanding its existing facility. “But then you need all new management and at least we have a base here,” he said of the Paris facility.

“Actually I was a little concerned about adding so many more people to this area,” he said, until officials convinced him workers can be obtained.

Paris Mayor Craig Smith said the growth for North American Lighting “is unbelievable. That means we will have a lot of jobs for our kids that are graduating from high school, who normally would have left Paris,” he said.

Smith said Paris has lost jobs since 2009. “Paris sort of held its own. We went from about 9 percent unemployment to 12 percent and now we are back to 7 percent unemployment. We are looking for people to come and move to Paris. Please come from Terre Haute. It is a great community to be in, and now we have jobs,” the mayor said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

What to know

• North American Lighting Inc. of Paris, Ill., needs to hire 180 employees in just 16 weeks — by March — to meet its 2014 production plan. Entry-level pay ranges from $14 to $18 an hour plus benefits.

 

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