BY JIM HILLEY
Creating new, well-paying jobs and a strong commitment to the community are reasons the Greater Sumter Chamber of Commerce 2014 Manufacturer of the Year Award was given to Apex Tool Group.
Sumter Economic Development Board member George Kosinski presented the award to former plant manager Ryan Cagle at the chamber annual retreat Saturday, Jan. 31.
"As part of our recruitment and retention program, we ask local companies to brag on themselves a little about their impact and involvement in the community and their commitment to their workforce," Kosinski said.
He said Apex's presentation stood out.
"We put together a selection committee and we rank and grade them based on their impact in the community, commitment to workforce and involvement," he said.
He said the committee was impressed that they invested $21.5 million in an expansion and brought 180 new jobs to the community.
"They have a competitive benefits package, a 401(k), 80 percent of the insurance is paid by the company," Kosinski said. "In addition to that (they have) employee recognition programs, educational reimbursement, health and wellness and, of course, safety is a top priority there."
Apex Tool Group manufactures professional hand and power tools for industrial, vehicle service and assembly, aerospace, electronics, construction and do-it-yourself markets.
Kosinski said Apex donates tools to several local school systems for use in shop, art and maintenance classes and sponsors many community programs such as the American Heart Association Heart Walk, the Tuomey Foundation, Wounded Warriors and many local youth parks and recreation teams.
"One of the other things was their Duke Energy Progress Partner Award which is for their responsible energy use," he said.
Cagle said he thinks the plant has been a good steward of the community and has helped change the economic climate in Sumter.
"I think the plant has done a good job in changing economic conditions to be a steward of the community," Cagle said.
"You look at the compensation we have for employees; it is definitely above average for what you would see. There is really an employee focus at the plant."
Cagle, who has moved further up the management ladder, said he spends about one weekend a month in Sumter.
"I had a great time in Sumter," he said.
Cagle said the plant has been in Sumter since 1973.
"It went through a lot of growth initially and then went through a downturn as products changed," he said. "The number of employees had gone down at one point."
He said Apex has invested a lot in "lean" manufacturing tools to make the manufacturing process better and get its products to market quicker.
He said the Sumter plant has benefited from the company consolidating operations.
"We had a lot of plants especially - our Dallas, Springdale, Arkansas and Sumter plants - operating at 50 to 60 percent capacity.
"Consolidating into Sumter allowed us to remain competitive," he said. "Look at that campus we have there, 100 acres, 400,000 square feet and the infrastructure is very good. We have room to do some different things and it really makes good sense."
Cagle said employees from Texas and Arkansas have already begun to move to Sumter.
"We have over 40 additional employees that will be relocating from Dallas and Springdale to Sumter," he said.
Reprinted with permission of Sumter's daily newspaper, The Item. For more info or to subscribe, please visit www.theitem.com