For Brunswick, which builds Lunds and Crestliner boats, expanding to Willmar is a perfect example of a creative workforce solutions partnership. Brunswick Corporation headquarters, located out of New York Mills, was needing to expand. But knew it had tapped out the workforce in the area. It was faced with the question of where to locate its new facility. Working with the Department of Employment and Economic Development to identify locations in the state that have a strong workforce, Brunswick was led to Kandiyohi County. But where in the county would it find employees? The answer was found with Solange Cooley, owner of Ag Jobs in Willmar. We sat down with Cooley and the leadership at Brunswick’s Willmar location to hear how the puzzle pieces fit together.
“I knew when I started the company that I would be finding jobs for every culture,” said Cooley about her temp agency business, Ag Jobs. “We started with finding employees for agricultural businesses, but it has grown into manufacturing jobs now. People are thankful for a way to start working in the industry, to get a foot in the door,” she added. The people whom Cooley is helping find jobs are primarily members of the Willmar Latino community. It can be difficult to find employment for those who speak strictly Spanish. Veronica Garcia, Human Resources Coordinator at Brunswick in Willmar, told us “There are not many places in the area that will work with the Latino community,” meaning there is a language and cultural barrier that can be difficult to overcome. But Brunswick was willing to think outside the box; they knew the Latino workforce in Willmar was untapped and they had a partnership with Ag Jobs ready to help facilitate.
Ag Jobs doesn’t just help someone find a job, it helps people learn and embrace a new culture. “It is very important to me that a business is going to guide Latino employees into American culture, that is one of the reasons I always tour a facility first.” In addition to screening businesses for having a positive, welcoming, and supportive culture, Cooley also insists that one of her staff, someone who is from the Latino community, be put in a leadership role. This helps both the company and the new staff get on the same page and work together.
Look no further than the new Brunswick facility to see this success story. Brunswick Corporation hired two talented staff, making it a requirement they also be bilingual in Spanish/English. Enter Veronica Garcia, Human Resource Coordinator, and Jorge Uvalle, Supervisor at the Willmar facility. The two oversee a skilled staff of about 30 people, who at this time are working for Ag Jobs. “We hope within a year that these employees will be able to move over to working for Brunswick,” said Garcia—and she is not alone in that wish. Ag Jobs is so successful in creating jobs and fostering a sense of community between employees and manufacturers that new businesses are working with Cooley every month. Cooley explained how it is a goal that a company takes on temp employees, but that several also appreciate her facilitating the relationship between employee and employer. As for the employees, “We are a family here,” says Garcia, as Uvalle nods enthusiastically in agreement. “We all work well together” added manufacturing team lead, David Calo. “This is the first job I feel… (as he pauses and holds his hands up as if grasping onto something that was lost and now found) that I want to come [to].” Calo was one of several staff who worked for two months, Monday – Friday, in New York Mills learning the trade of upholstery application in which the Willmar site specializes. He adds it wasn’t always easy, he has a family and a new baby just arrived, but it was worth it for a job he enjoys, feels respected at, and sees turning into a career. “My goal is that my employees feel like they matter, that they are more than a number,” said Cooley. Ag Jobs achieves this by working with an employer to provide housing and transportation for employees who need it, thus eliminating basic life-needs stressors, and fostering an employee to commit to learning a new job while also building trust in the company. All around, it is a win-win situation.
Brunswick Corporation will be holding its grand opening of the Willmar plant later this month, and the celebration will be more than just opening a literal door, but a figurative one as well. A door that is open to exchanging cultures, creating community, and building innovative workforce solutions in Kandiyohi County.