Originally Published: March 17, 2012 10 p.m.
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Sparks flew Thursday morning at the Superior Industries' Southwest Division plant here as Tyson Marsh and other welders grinded metal.
"When you weld, there are imperfections that come from steel," plant Manager Lane Koehl explained as he conducted a tour of the first floor of the sheet-metal building on Superior Lane off Valley Road. "You grind that out and you put another weld (wire) over the top."
The plant buzzed with other activity as well. One employee stretched out on the concrete floor as he did layout work on a hopper bin side. Upstairs, two engineers designed conveyer equipment on computers.
Unlike other factories, the plant lacks deafening sounds where workers wear earplugs.
Outside, graded land is being prepared to expand the building from 50,000 to 75,000 square feet.
Superior is undergoing its second major expansion since it opened in Prescott Valley in 2006, Koehl said. Superior, based in Morris, Minn., manufactures conveyer equipment that the mining and aggregates industries use.
Superior is expanding because the company found a market for conveyer belts at a mine in Australia, Koehl said. He has hired six employees since January - bringing the total to 49 - and plans to hire an additional 20 to 25 by the end of the year.
Koehl, a former farmer who started with Superior as a project manager 15 years ago, also cited a favorable business climate with Prescott Valley's town government.
"The reason we are expanding in the Southwest is the community is great to work with," Koehl said. He also credited Gary Marks, executive director for the Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation, for helping Superior qualify for a rural development grant from the Arizona Commerce Authority.
Superior will use the grant to help pay for expanding the company's work force, Koehl said. He is hiring welders, painters, assemblers and fabricators (who run saws and cut pieces of metal), with wages starting around $10 to $12 an hour.
The grant will exceed $100,000, Marks said. Kristen Hellmer, director of communications for the Commerce Authority, said, "We are working to finalize the grant."
Marks said, "It is great news for that expansion and the capital investment that is being made. I am tickled to death that the project is to take place here."
Koehl said he is "tickled to death" as well, and announced via email after the interview Thursday that the Community Development Department approved the building permit. Prescott Valley Building Official Woody Lewis corroborated his account.
Koehl said he hopes construction will begin in two to four weeks. He expects the expansion to be completed in August and in operation by the fourth quarter of 2012.
"Instead of expanding in Minnesota, we will be able to expand here," Koehl said. "It allows us to bring products from the Minnesota shop to build here: conveyer equipment."
While the Southwest Division is expanding markets to Australia, it also supplied a business down Valley Road: Patriot Disposal.
Patriot bought a conveyer belt five months ago for its recycling operation, said Chris Kuknyo, chief operating officer and co-founder.
"It is a local company and they have been fantastic to work with," Kuknyo said. "They went way beyond what they had to do. Their customer service was outstanding. They set the conveyer belt up for us and they aligned it."
Kuknyo, a Prescott City Council member, said Patriot employees watched the conveyer belt being assembled at Superior.
Conveyer belts range in size from 40 to 1,700 square feet, Koehl said.
Koehl said Superior provides on-site certification for new employees, adding, "All our guys are pretty much cross-trained."
Marsh, on the job for five months, said he applied at Superior in part because some of his friends work there.
"I love it here," said Marsh, a 36-year-old Navy veteran who lives in Prescott Valley. "When you are doing assembling, there are so many different things to do."
For more information about employment, contact Erica Cook at (320) 589-2406.