Company with about 200 workers looks to employ more | News, Sports, Jobs

Employees work on the assembly line at Shop-Vac in Williamsport Feb. 16, 2022. The company reopened under new management and is looking to fill numerous positions.
DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

The sound of machinery inside the Shop-Vac plant at 2323 Reach Road was encouraging. So, too, were the employees assembling the wet-dry vacuums and boxing them up for shipment.

Shop-Vac had a hiccup in production after the former company ownership’s abrupt closure of the plant in September 2020.

Last January, however, Hangzhou Equipment Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of Hangzhou GreatStar Industrial Co. Ltd., and GreatStar Tools USA, acquired substantially all of the assets of Shop-Vac Corp., the brand leaders in wet/dry vacuum systems for consumer and commercial users.

As part of the acquisition, GreatStar took ownership of the company’s assets, including the Williamsport plant and hired a number of employees who were separated after the company’s shut down.

The churning of the machines and factory workers making the product line this past week was pleasing to Charlie Lawrence, chief operating officer of Shop-Vac USA LLC.

On a recent tour of the facility that he offered the Sun-Gazette, Lawrence said he wanted to hire another 25 workers, about a 10-percent staff increase, adding to about 200 gainfully employed at the plant.

If he doesn’t, it can delay product shipments, he said.

Hopefully that doesn’t happen, and Lawrence and his team have done what they can to make sure of it, by extending outreach with resources that can help him to recruit employees.

Resources include the Sun-Gazette, use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, business networking and joining the Williamsport/Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and reaching out to schools such as Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Recent mergers with other companies are keeping the paychecks printed.

For example, inside one vast section of the factory, 40,000 square feet is devoted to S-K Tools manufacturing.

Walking by the injection mold machinery, a clinking sound of metal striking metal could be heard.

Lawrence smiled at the noise.

It was the production of stainless steel sockets being dropped down a conveyor belt into a storage bin.

Behind the machine, an employee monitored the process of the metal getting cut and formed into the sockets used by thousands if not millions of carpenters, plumbers and everyday handymen.

S-K, which stands for the Sherman-Klove Co., a business that made munitions for the first world war and screw-machine products, is located in the giant shop, and produced tool parts for suppliers around the nation.

“This city needs it,” Lawrence said of the production lines rolling.

He’s excited to tell more people about the Shop-Vac story and wants employees with the right attitude who want to join a winning team.

Shop-Vac was founded in 1953 as an offshoot of the Craft Tool Co. by Martin Miller, a mechanical engineer who patented the product.

The vacuum quickly took the place of the broom and dustpan.

It could clean wood and metal chips in places such as high school workshops and, in 1969, the corporation opened its world headquarters in Williamsport, producing the Shop-Vac brand but also private labeled vacuums with names such as Craftsman, Black & Decker, Montgomery Wards and JC Penney.

Over the years, the wet/dry vacuum evolved, such as in 1998 when Shop-Vac introduced a pump vacuum capable of picking up water from flooded areas and pumping it out up to 60 feet.

For areas in central Pennsylvania which gets periodic flooding, the machine proved to be invaluable.

It’s still considered a Godsend.

Inside the 350,000-square-foot facility is a 300,000-square-foot warehouse devoted to the product line.

In yet another part of the plant, 40 blow molding and injection molding machines are positioned to perform their tasks.

This is where the tanks, nozzles and hoses are made.

In the distance a team of workers on the assembly lines are busily packing the components and placing them in boxes for shipment.

They wave their hands upward at Lawrence and his tour. Some of the women and men are shifting their bodies from side to side, others are swiftly assembling the cardboard boxes and still others are stacking the vacuum, parts and instructions and warranty in the boxes.

They move along the assembly line to be stacked and wait for shipment, or stored in case of emergencies.

Some 100,000 vacuums remain in the plant in case of natural disasters and the rush to retailers when there are floods, hurricanes and storms.

Nearly everyone owns or knows someone who has a Shop-Vac. But, surprisingly, the product comes in 50 sizes, and are operable for everyone from the grandmother sweeping up spilled Cheerios to those who need to clean up ash at industrial sites.

The factory tries to produce most of what makes up the vacuums on the plant site, to remain competitive, and that includes such items as stainless steel cages, plastic fans and hoses.

The motors — that power the product lines — are manufactured by a sister company in China, and most of the raw materials are U.S. suppliers.

In another part of the factory are 40 mammoth presses that produce the plastic parts of the vacuums.

These are turned on and because they are energy intensive are left on in three shifts for days and weeks at a time.

The injection mold used to produce the plastic parts are affixed on the top with a coupling. A gigantic chain with a hook clips on to it and lifts it into place.

The air temperature is comfortable and new employees at the assembly lines are given initial training on slow runs and mentored before they are brought in for the regular assembly.

Some of the employees have been with the company for 30 years. There is a mix of relatively older employees, and some younger.

“We promote a positive work environment and culture,” Lawrence said.

For example, the employees took part in a tent sale for the community, held picnics and performed an invaluable role, stepping up production to ensure extra vacuums are available at local retailers, especially whenever natural disasters.

The vacuums and components are sold on the Shop-Vac website with a store for shopping on it and the toll-free 1-800 customer service line.

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