From left, Jim Johnson, president of Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical, Northern Engraving CEO Daniel Schmitz and Paul D. Moe, executive director of the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership (MJSP) sign the grant agreement that will provide training opportunities for 227 Northern Engraving, Spring Grove employees, including 80 new hires. On the wall behind the gentlemen are some examples of products produced at the plant, including a variety of automotive trim panels. PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/ SPRING GROVE HERALD <br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->
From left, Jim Johnson, president of Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical, Northern Engraving CEO Daniel Schmitz and Paul D. Moe, executive director of the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership (MJSP) sign the grant agreement that will provide training opportunities for 227 Northern Engraving, Spring Grove employees, including 80 new hires. On the wall behind the gentlemen are some examples of products produced at the plant, including a variety of automotive trim panels. PHOTO: CRAIG MOORHEAD/ SPRING GROVE HERALD

"We're pleased to get this thing moving," Jim Johnson said as he prepared to sign the document. As president of Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical, Johnson toured Spring Grove's Northern Engraving plant following a short grant signing ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 6.

Northern Engraving Chief Operating Officer Daniel Schmitz spoke next; "We're excited to see our business grow, but more importantly, to be able to partner with Southeast Technical College and the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership to improve the skills of our current work force as well as to grow our workforce in the Spring Grove area," he added.

"It's a dollar for dollar match, not a business subsidy," Paul Moe of the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership said. "It's basically a pump primer... We actually stole the idea from other states. It's been highly successful. We've worked with tens of thousands of Minnesota employees.

"We need training for higher-skilled workers."

Moe is the executive director of MJSP, which is part of a larger organization called DEED (Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development).

According to DEED reports, the training program, which will further the skills of 227 Northern Engraving workers in Spring Grove, is part of an $8.4 million effort that was proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton and allocated by the 2013 Minnesota Legislature.

The program's roots reach back to 1983. Since then, 261,192 workers have received training.

Training in Spring Grove is set to begin in March, and continue over the next two years. The company is expected to increase employment by 80 workers in conjunction with the program.

Northern Engraving will invest $345,047, including wages for trainees and "in kind" support for the sessions. The MJSP will contribute $235,000, while Southeast Technical will provide services valued at $15,352.

Schmitz stated that two to three new automotive parts programs are available for Northern Engraving over the next 10 to 12 months. "It's work that has been awarded to us," he said during a tour of the facility. "Two of those are definitely coming, and the third will depend upon us hiring enough employees here to fill it."

A resurgence by U.S. automakers apparently makes the difference for parts suppliers like Northern Engraving.

"Eighty percent of (recent) programs from automakers have exceeded their estimated annual volume," Schmitz noted.

Out in the plant, workers were fabricating trim for Mustangs, Chargers and Cadillacs. Some of the stations involved a lot of handwork, while others included robotics. There were also appliance parts coming off the lines. But there was one thing that everything had in common. Parts were inspected for perfect fit and finish. Nothing went through without incredibly close scrutiny.

Northern Engraving was founded in 1908, and supplies decorative trim and nameplates for a variety of markets. The Spring Grove plant is one of five U.S. production facilities.