Both buildings at Columbia Flooring were humming Tuesday with employees busily making engineered hardwood flooring — a product that has gained in popularity because of its durability, plant manager Bert Eades told the Danville Development Council during a plant tour.
Eades said while the plant did suffer through some layoffs during the recession, now the number of employees is up to 270, with 50 new jobs added this year and 40 expected next year.
Danville Mayor Sherman Saunders asked what qualifications the workforce needs, and Eades said that while there are entry-level positions on various manufacturing lines for high school graduates, he looks for people with mechanical aptitude.
Eades said applicants who have taken Danville Community College’s machining classes also have a much better chance of getting higher-pay offers and can look forward to more promotions — a comment that made DCC President Bruce Scism smile and offer to work with Eades to find the workers he needs.
A $3 million expansion is planned to further automate the plant, Eades said, and they are looking at what they can do to improve parking in the tight space the plant currently owns.
City Manager Joe King asked how the seemingly land-locked plants, bisected by train tracks, could expand, and Eades said they are looking at neighboring property.
While the sign outside the plant still says “Columbia Flooring” the company actually has several names, Eades said. Mohawk Hard Woods bought the plant in 2007 and its official name is now Unilin Division of Mohawk.
The plant makes only engineered hardwood flooring, which Eades said has “more stability than solid hardwood” and can be installed on concrete-slab floors.
“You can use this in basements,” Eades said.
Three brands of flooring are created in Danville: Mohawk, Columbia and Century.
Walking through the maze of equipment and piles of various kinds of wood in the two buildings that comprise the plant on Maxine Road, Eades and two other employees divided the group up into three smaller groups for easier listening. Everyone was warned to wear close-toed shoes for the tour and each person was issued safety glasses and earplugs before it began.
Especially impressive were the number of quality checks each piece of flooring goes through. First, all the wood is graded, then the layers are assembled, which involves gluing and pressing.
Then each piece goes through several steps of sanding — and might make a side-trip if special finishes, such as hand-scraping, embossing or wire-brushing is needed — before heading to the finishing process, where stains and topcoats happen.
Eades said engineered hardwood flooring is much more durable than its predecessors, or even “true” hardwood flooring, which needs regular refinishing. The flooring made at this plant doesn’t require any refinishing for at least 25 years, Eades said, with some finishes lasting as long as 50 years.
At each step along the way — right up through boxing and shipping — pieces may be rejected for any number of reasons, but there is still little waste heading for the landfills because workers make pallets out of most of the wood “rejects,” Eades said.