Zeeland, Mich. — Drive down Production Court and the sign for Primera Plastics Inc. comes quickly into view. So, too, does the message below the sign: “Now hiring.”
Owner Noël Cuellar, 56, makes it clear from the start of a conversation that the injection molder has made finding workers and developing them job one at Primera.
“We are hiring for maintenance, engineering, labor,” said Cuellar, who started Primera in 1994 and is the sole owner after buying out his second business partner a couple years ago.
Cuellar plans for the long-term when it comes to filling the skilled-worker gap that is prevalent throughout the manufacturing sector. He launched Primera Pathways two years ago. The result is 10 high school students arrive after school four days a week, putting in three hours a day doing light assembly at the business that generates 75 percent of its $23 million in sales from the automotive sector. Cuellar wants to provide life skills to his young employees, too. He regularly hosts PNC Bank employees to educate Primera workers in budgeting and finance. He goes one step further with a plan to match up to $2,500 that his student workers save for college.
Lest anyone think that Cuellar is simply extending a hand to kids, he tells the story of a male high school student who asked to work in the Primera Pathways program. The student, however, did not take his drug test by the deadline, so Cuellar would not accept the student into the program, at least for now.
“We are not a charity. We are for profit,” he said, but quickly adds that the student can reapply later.
Cuellar is proud that his 136-employee operation in western Michigan has nine master molders. “That's unheard of for a company our size,” he said.
He also is investing more than $3 million into the company. For starters, Primera has begun installing a new $500,000 cooling system that employees will enjoy this summer and will allow him to expand into the medical field. In addition, the company is purchasing six new Arburg presses for $2.5 million. Cuellar plans to move older presses to a new technical center where young apprentices and current staff will get hands-on experience.