By Kyle Magin
Tom Frantz, a co-owner of Grass Valley's new Huntington Mechanical Labs, has the unreleased energy of a racehorse. He's anxious to see what Huntington's new plant can do once its firing on all cylinders.
Huntington recently moved from its longtime base in Mountain View, Calif., where it manufactured high-tech vacuums for research purposes for 40 years. It creates custom and ready-to-order products. Located off Loma Rica Road near the Nevada County Airport, the new plant has been up and running for a little more than two weeks, though not at full capacity.
"We're running below our desired staffing levels now," Frantz said. "We're concerned about getting our production numbers up."
With a client list including researchers and manufacturers in the computer industry, demand hasn't dropped.
Frantz still needs to add about five or six machinists and a couple of welders to his payroll, hoping they will prove to be the last cog in the Huntington machine. For now, welder's booths stand empty and some machines unmanned.
"We're running around here with our hair on fire. Customers are screaming for product," Frantz said. "It was kind of a shock to me that we couldn't get more machinists right away. They are really hard to find, and there aren't many young ones. I've been alive long enough to see the value of a trades education fall off."
Huntington workers - some new, and some who have been with the firm since its Mountain View days - have been working with Future Farmers of America students from Nevada Union High School to train them, but they are too inexperienced to be ready yet, Frantz said.
Plant personnel are still hoping to hire local workers but are also casting an eye to the Rust Belt to find experienced workers.
A handful of Huntington's plant workers were hired from the western Nevada County area recently, including North San Juan Ridge resident David Bandimere. He hired on with Huntington in July and worked for more than two months in Mountain View, living in accommodations supplied by the company, before moving home. He previously worked at another manufacturing job locally, he said.
"This is awesome, it's a much better job," Bandimere said. "I got an interview through my wife (who is applying to the company) and was glad to get the job."
About five of his co-workers who live in Grass Valley were unemployed before the plant opened, he said.
To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail email@example.com or call (530) 477-4239.