ROSEMONT, ILL. — Extreme Tool & Engineering Inc. is located in remote Michigan and has an average employee age of 28.
Those two details might be considered disadvantages to some mold makers.
But for Mike Zacharias, they are a couple of key reasons why his Wakefield-based company is successful.
“I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being an old guy like me. But I do believe in the power of youth and reinvesting in training. The bottom line is we're preparing for the next 40 years, not the last 40,” he said at the recent 2014 Plastics Caps & Closures conference in Rosemont.
Located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Extreme Tool is situated in 32,000 square feet of space divided into two buildings on a 15-acre campus. The company makes 130 to 140 molds in a typical year, and sales are about $14 million annually, the owner said.
“We've got something that I think makes our remote location an advantage rather than a disadvantage,” he said at the conference organized by Plastics News.
The company owner, himself, is a journeyman mold maker as well as president of the company. He's also the company's only salesman.
Being in such a remote location, with its own set of economic challenges, means that the 80 or so jobs that Extreme Tool provides are some of the best in the area, Zacharias said.
And that helps keep employee turnover low — about 5 percent annually. That, he said, compares to 10 to 20 percent a company like his would see elsewhere.
“It's kind of an odd place to have a business. But there's some real competitive advantages,” he said. “We've got some things that really make what I consider our remote location to be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.”
Zacharias grew up in a small town near Milwaukee and often hunted and fished with his father in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He vowed, one day, to move to the area and find a way to make a living. He did just that, taking a significant pay cut back in the day to become a mold maker apprentice at nearby Ironwood Plastics.
He took the job so he could live where he wanted to live. And many of his own fellow employees these days are attracted to the outdoors activities that Zacharias loves.
One thing led to another, and by 1998, Zacharias and some fellow employees at Extreme Tool bought out the company after its parent company decided to divest operations. Six employees then have grown to about 80 today, and Zacharias is now the sole owner.
And they, like the owner, appreciate having a job that allows them to live in that part of the country. Workers commute anywhere from two to 40 miles, with some even coming from nearby Wisconsin to work.
“Our culture is a lot about being a good community member and making our company a good place to work as well as a good place for our customers to do business with,” he said.
Zacharias, at one point, did have concerns about attracting enough talent to keep his shop successful.
But not anymore.
Extreme Tool either hires directly from high school or college and sets about to train its employees. “We've been able to promote our brand and our company locally at a level where we are able to attract young talent,” he said. “We're very aggressive about training.
“I'm not going to be foolish enough to say we've got it all figured out, but it does seem like we've got things heading in a direction where we can get the capable, qualified people that are able to and ready to be trained to be productive employees for our company,” he said.