Spring Grove’s Northern Engraving facility, seen from the east entrance to Spring Grove, PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/SPRING GROVE HERALD
Spring Grove’s Northern Engraving facility, seen from the east entrance to Spring Grove, PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/SPRING GROVE HERALD
A Spring Grove employer has been awarded a Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Grant for $235,000. Of even more importance for the community, however, is a substantial increase in employment that is planned in conjunction with the program.

Northern Engraving will partner with Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical, Winona, in order to offer a variety of on-site and online training programs for members of both labor and management, Calli Ekblad of Southeast Technical said last week.

Ekblad serves as director of business relations and grant coordinator at the college.

"We will be training 227 employees at Northern Engraving," she reported. "Of that, they will be increasing their employment by 80 individuals by 2015. We're going to be training their current 147 employees, plus an additional 80 that they expect to hire."

Offered through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), the grant requires a one-to-one match from Northern Engraving.

"The Spring Grove NE facility has experienced a recent increase in customer demand," NE training/calibration coordinator Shelly Ellingson said. "Northern Engraving is determined to improve technology, add equipment, expand production and increase employment."

The company will meet its cost share by providing items such as training space, wages for employees who are participating in training sessions and clerical support, she added.

Grant monies will be used for various costs such as curriculum development, training materials and supplies, training equipment and instructor travel fees.

Ekblad said the company and college are currently meeting to develop the courses, line up instructors and work out training schedules. The grant allows for training over a two-year period, she noted, but the next year and a half will certainly be a busy time.

"We expect some of the classes to begin in March," Ekblad stated. "We will set the sessions up to run 24/7, so if you have a shift from midnight to 7 a.m., for example, our instructors would go to Spring Grove to train from midnight to 7 a.m."

CNC (computer numerical control) programming and operation, setup, and troubleshooting will be included, she explained. Other items include Lean and Key Core Tools training, Litho Press operation, Microsoft Office 2013, and online supervisory training. The latter course is currently under development specifically for NE.

Lean will be a key component. Originally derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry, Lean principles include utilizing a set of "tools" aimed at identifying and steadily eliminating waste. Improved quality and reduced production time are primary goals.

"We're going to have someone there watching their operation, looking for ways to do things in a more streamlined manner," Ekblad said.

"We're going to be adding some newer equipment," Northern Engraving Spring Grove plant manager Steve Hawes said. "A lot of the training will be done on that, along with some of the equipment that we already have.

"There will be line-time and class-time included. It's advanced training. It's something that will help us, to bring in outside help to set some of this up and get us going. The training will all be done in-house."

"It's definitely going to benefit us... we're going to get some training on new equipment that we weren't able to get before. Hands-on training."

"This is going to open up opportunities for more jobs in the community," Ellingson concluded. "The busier we get with new program launches and providing the training for employees to build their skills and advance, the more opportunities for job placement there will be."

A grant signing ceremony and celebration will be held at Northern Engraving on Feb. 6, where employees will officially accept the awarded grant.