THE BIG PICTURE: Fan company shows manufacturing still big business

World Today

Manufacturing has witnessed major changes in the last decade, but it remains critical to developing-and-developed countries alike. And in Kentucky, one company is bucking the perception that U.S. manufacturing is on the decline.

CGTN’s Nathan King reports.

For a bustling factory in the U.S. heartland, talk of a cooling manufacturing industry is nothing but hot air.

“We have no idea why folks on the coasts say that manufacturing is in decline,” John Bostock, COO of Big Ass Fans, said. “We actually see no skills gap. We had some of the best workers that you can find right here in Lexington Kentucky.”

Workers are well-paid. The company say’s wages here are 50 percent higher than the average in the U.S., and over 6 percent of the company’s pre-tax earnings are paid out in bonuses every year.

“The bonus is actually great. It’s not something I’m ever going to complain about,” according to Production Supervisor Ray Hawkins. “it makes you feel appreciated when the end of the year comes.”

So what makes this company so different from most, which said American manufacturing is in decline and good jobs are disappearing?

“You know, the reality is that we are a Lexington-based company, but we are a global company; we sell to over 150 countries,” Bostock said. “Trade is a critical part of our business. What we want ultimately is free trade. We think free trade helps drive the global economy. We also want the ability to sell products into other markets free of tariffs that would cause unfair advantage. ”

Workers at the factory focus on quality. Wherever the parts come from, they are assembled meticulously. Each fan is tested for quality and quietness in a sound prof room.

What the company wants, it said, is to be left alone by Washington to keep doing this quality work.

Much of the company’s success comes from the global supply chain, which if interrupted would  hit the company’s bottom line, and workers.

That’s where Jamie Hillegonds, director of global operations, comes in. It’s her job to constantly make sure the company’s global supply meets cost, quality and safety standards. But she’s also thinking about the long-term, planning for the next 5, 10, or 15 years.

Flexibility is the key. Big Ass Fans may be manufacturing in Kentucky today, but to grow and thrive in the global market place they will have to be flexible

“We are looking at the global supply chain and we are also looking at where we want to manufacture,” Hillegonds said. “I mean ideally I love American manufacturing like to manufacture as much here as possible. I think the reality is, particularly for our big fans and some of our other products, it might make sense to make them overseas in the markets in which we sell them.”

For Employees like Ray Hawkins, this means today’s success doesn’t necessarily mean a secure future. But working for a company that focuses on quality and expanding into global markets, while also shunning tariffs and protectionism, probably puts him in a better position than most.

And then there are those shirts.

“It’s not every day you can get a shirt that has an ass on it.”