Strong businesses. Strong community.
Founded in 1954, Volm Companies has expanded from an Antigo-based grocery store and post office to one of Wisconsin’s top 75 privately held companies and the largest manufacturer of computerized weighing equipment in North America. Despite its expanded national footprint —including 360 employees nationwide and sales and support locations in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Washington, and Illinois — Volm employs 240 individuals at four plants in Langlade County, and Antigo remains the home of the corporate headquarters. Volm is currently working on a 37,000 square-foot expansion of its Plaspack Facility in Langlade County. One hundred percent of products made in the new expansion will be used by the three plants in Antigo.
For Volm, the decision to remain in Langlade County has been driven in part by the company’s commitment and ties to the community. But it also makes sense from a business point of view.
Complementary manufacturing and agribusiness industries.
Volm is situated in one of the most productive potato and vegetable regions in the state and nation. Wisconsin is currently the third-largest potato producer and is the top producer east of the Mississippi River with an estimated 63,500 harvested acres and total crop weight of 29 million hundredweight for 2012. This location makes perfect business sense for a company that produces a variety of products suited to the fresh produce industry, including produce bags, sustainable mesh for food packaging, and packing equipment such as baggers, balers and package closure systems.
Logistics expand Volm’s reach.
Logistically, Langlade County also makes good business sense for Volm Companies. Langlade County is situated along four State highways and one U.S. Highway, with access to an interstate within thirty minutes; state and national rail services are within 50 miles. Langlade County Airport offers asphalt runways with some of the best approaches in the state, and three other domestic airports are within 50 miles.
Michael Hunter II, plant manager for the Volm Companies and grandson of the company founder, notes the importance of quality trucking services in the region. “We have our own Volm Trucking service, but we also use quality trucking services in the region to supplement the transportation of packaging and equipment. We have a great trucking firm just minutes away — Karl’s Trucking. Merrill, Wausau and Stevens Point also have reputable national trucking firms. If your market is the Midwest, this is a great location for manufacturers.” Volm Companies utilizes trucking to service Wisconsin’s agribusiness sector throughout the state, including southern and central Wisconsin.
“In the last two years,” notes Hunter, “Wisconsin has become even more pro-business. And,” he adds,” the Langlade County and Antigo City government really understand the importance of manufacturing to the community. The City Council and Mayor are dedicated to building businesses in this region — it’s part of building and maintaining a thriving community. They understand that building businesses equates to building jobs and that it’s a major driver of economic growth. For every dollar of payroll in manufacturing, we generate three times that in the community because people have the money to spend in the community — groceries, homes, services.”
Continues Hunter, “The city and county have been very good partners with our business and others in the area. They’re very pro business and pro manufacturing. As we’ve expanded and demonstrated that we’re making an investment in the community, that we’re using local contractors as much as we can and creating jobs, we’ve been granted property tax breaks. They grant us incremental breaks that help free up our cash flow so we can reinvest in our business, hire people and get the business off the ground. It’s business-friendly initiatives like this that have helped other regional manufacturers establish themselves and thrive. Because of it, manufacturing is very strong in Langlade County,” he adds.
Another key element is access to a well-trained, committed workforce. “Our workforce is very solid. We have a lot of very dedicated, hard-working people who’ve been here for over 20 years. Our very first employee just retired. She worked her way up in our company and retired as a Human Resources Manager.” Hunter adds, “This is a rural community and many of our employees have grown up on or worked on a farm. That’s hard, hard work. Because of that, our people don’t shy away from responsibility and hard work.”
Continuing education also plays a critical role. “Our employees can have a great career with us because there’s room to grow in the manufacturing industry,” notes Hunter. “We’ve established partnerships with Antigo High School, Northcentral Technical College (NTC) in Antigo and Wausau, and the Northern Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center (NWMOC) at UW-STOUT.”
With three universities and two community colleges within 50 miles, continuing education is readily available to Langlade County residents. In fact, two-year degrees have become a popular path to career advancement for Volm Companies’ employees. “We’ve invested in training for our employees in a wide range of fields — coaching, leadership, advanced manufacturing and supervisor classes.”
Thanks to NTC, Langlade County businesses can receive affordable, customized, high quality training that helps them remain competitive. NTC helps companies design affordable workforce training courses using Wisconsin Technical College System Workforce Advancement Training (WAT) grants that cover the majority of costs. According to Brenda Zimmermann Thorpe, Business Development Manager at NTC, “We have exceptional grant writers who identify the needs and strategies of local businesses, so we are successful at winning the grants. We have large and small business grants and can submit up to six each spring. If we don’t receive the grant, then we’ll find other resources for businesses because we realize businesses need training to remain competitive.”
“NTC is a great partner,” states Hunter. “We tell them what training we need and they build customized classes — or customize current class offerings — to meet our needs. Classes can be held on campus or at our premises. We operate 24/7 and NTC will come out and offer a class at 4 a.m. if we want them to,” explains Hunter. “About half of the training is paid for by state and federal grants. If we didn’t have that funding, we couldn’t offer the depth and breadth of training that we do.”
Through its partnership with NWMOC, Volm has provided Lean Manufacturing training. Because NWMOC is government funded, Volm receives expert consultant services without having to pay expensive consultancy rates. NWMOC also “trains the trainer,” ensuring that Volm employees can utilize what they learn to train others.
Hunter has seen secondary education make strides on behalf of the student body as well. “Antigo High School has a good tech ed program and basic engineering classes that help prepare students who want to seek a technical two-year degree,” adds Hunter. “We stay in touch with the high school to address any concerns we may have about students’ technical training and we talk to them about potential careers in manufacturing so they can share that with their students. The partnerships between manufacturers, the high school and postsecondary schools have improved and continue to do so.”
Ultimately, Hunter notes, preparing younger generations for advanced manufacturing careers and providing advanced training for current employees is critical to the success of the community. “Today, manufacturing presents a variety of career paths that weren’t available a few years ago. Because of the business-friendly initiatives in this area we can afford to advance our business and the careers of our employees — and that builds a stronger, economically-sound community.”