You may not expect to find a wealth of job candidates well-versed in modern engineering practices in Maysville, Kentucky. The Ohio River town—60 miles southeast of Cincinnati with a population of less than 10,000—is a former tobacco hub with a poverty rate above the national average.
But STOBER Drives Inc., a German-owned gearbox manufacturer with its North American operations in Maysville, is changing that.
“We’re in rural America,” says STOBER Vice President and General Manager Peter Feil. “We don’t have engineers and machinists walking around the streets of our community, ready to go. We can’t hire people right off the street, like you can in some other industries.
So to create the workforce it needs, in the mid-2000s, STOBER began an initiative aimed at creating a more stable work force.
The first initiative STOBER collaborated with is TRACK (Tech Ready Apprentices for Careers in Kentucky), the Kentucky Department of Education’s pre-apprenticeship program available to local 11th and 12th graders. TRACK is a joint effort of the Kentucky Department of Education’s Office of Career and Technical education and the Kentucky Labor Cabinet that provides students with career pathway opportunities into registered apprenticeship programs. Employers such as STOBER can tailor the program to their needs and choose students who are the best fit. Students chosen by STOBER rotate through multiple departments at the company.
The company also got involved in the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (KY FAME), which works with local educational institutions to implement apprenticeship-style training for workers ages 18 or older. Those selected receive a full-time wage and benefits, with 10 hours of the 40-hour work week allotted for school, funded by STOBER.
By the end of the program, an apprentice has earned an associate degree free of charge and compiled four years of work experience. Feil estimates that 30 percent of STOBER’s workforce has come from the apprenticeship program.
“It keeps a talent pipeline and also makes us very attractive to an employee,” Feil says. “People want to be a part of a company that is invested in people. It was definitely a forward-thinking, business-sustaining initiative, and it has served us very, very well. Other companies in our area that didn’t do that are struggling now.”
(Photo by Jeremy Kramer)
"We’re all about treating our employees as though they’re members of our family. If we don’t do a good job making them happy, our customers are not going to be happy," said Feil.
German precision, American service STOBER, which launched in Germany in 1934, prides itself on producing the gold standard of gear drives. The Maysville plant, which employs approximately 130 people, distributes the efficient helical gearing for use in manufacturing operations including food processing, aerospace, material handling, medical and robotics. Water-tight and built for maximum reliability and durability, STOBER’s gear boxes provide the user with lower total cost of ownership than brands that must be replaced more frequently.
“With our German heritage, we have 85 years of knowledge and development and focus on precision and quality,” Feil says. “Then we have the American mentality of service—quick delivery and consultative selling. You put those two together, and that’s a nice combination.”
But STOBER is also, at root, a producer of people, and the cycle in which employee and employer benefit mutually is the secret to the company’s success.
STOBER encourages lifelong learning among its employees, stimulates economic development, creates leaders within the organization and improves in-house corporate culture. It also provides employee wellness programs that encompass financial and physical fitness, and maintains a community presence through charitable fundraisers and causes. Through all of these actions, STOBER gives its employees the opportunity to grow and develop in ways beyond the manufacturing expertise required for their jobs.
And those efforts have paid off; STOBER, which has annual revenue of $38 million, was recently selected as one of 100 Best Places to Work in Kentucky, an award sponsored by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky Society for Human Resource Management and Best Companies Group. The recognition, in the category of businesses with one to 149 employees, was based on an assessment of employee policies and procedures and an internal employee survey.
“We’re all about treating our employees as though they’re members of our family,” Feil says. “If we don’t do a good job making them happy, our customers are not going to be happy. The most important thing we do in business is treating our employees well.”
(Photo by Jeremy Kramer)
Switching gears by switching banks
Even if Huntington were the only bank he had ever worked with, STOBER Drives, Inc. Vice President and General Manager Peter Feil says he would appreciate the service his company receives and the relationships it has built with the bank. But a past interaction with another bank gives him an improved perspective of why working with the team at Huntington has been a perfect pairing.
“We were with a larger bank before, and they were pretty inflexible,” says Feil, whose company made the switch to Huntington in 2012. “We were dealing with people locally for a while, then our account got moved to another department. It turned into a difficult relationship.”
As a privately held business, decision-making is driven by long-term planning, not quarterly reports and immediate returns, something that Huntington has been very adaptable in dealing with, he says.