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Loren Cook Co. expansion creates another 200 jobs

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by Karen E. Culp

SBJ Staff

By July of 1999, Loren Cook Company will have created another 200 jobs in the Springfield area, said Jerry Cook, company president and son of the company's founder.

Loren Cook Company purchased 40 acres last year on North Barnes Avenue, about a half mile from its current location on Dale Street. The company is currently preparing the site for a phased expansion, the first phase of which will be a 170,000-square-foot building.

At its existing location, the company has 400,000 square feet. The project, which should be complete within a year, will house manufacturing activities that are currently taking place in other portions of Loren Cook Company's facilities.

Loren Cook Company, founded by Jerry Cook's father, Loren Cook, in 1941, now has three locations. The company manufactures air-moving equipment for commercial and industrial uses. Its equipment is used in sports complexes and other large structures, such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland.

Loren Cook Company's headquarters and largest manufacturing operation are in Springfield, and the company has one plant in Ashville, N.C., and another in Ogden, Utah.

The Utah plant now houses a portion of the company's business that has the biggest potential for growth: its centrifugal blower business.

That portion of the business manufactures blowers for original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, such as Trane and Carrier makers of large air-moving systems like air conditioning and heating systems.

The parts for those OEMs are produced to go into their specific equipment, and the work is done on a contractual basis Loren Cook Company will enter into a contract with an OEM to produce a given product.

"Right now, the Utah plant can't handle all that business, so we'll be moving a lot of what they do in Utah down here and into the new expansion," Cook said.

In anticipation of its expansion, the company has already hired 120 people, and the hiring will continue, Cook said. The total cost of the expansion now stands at $11.5 million, but may go as high as $12 million.

Because of the specialized nature of its business, Loren Cook Company has to add a great deal of equipment for an expansion such as this, Cook said.

"You can easily spend a few million dollars just on a few pieces of equipment," Cook said.

Though the expansion will include some of the Utah site's operation, the Utah site will continue to operate, and the Springfield expansion will also pick up some work from areas of its existing plant that are too crowded.

"Right now we're bursting at the seams. We need some room to grow," Cook said.

The 40-acre site could house a second and third phase of expansion, he added. Those two additions would bring the company to a total of more than 1 million square feet.

The entire Loren Cook work force stands at 825 people, many of whom are in manufacturing positions, and some others of whom are in sales and marketing, engineering, human resources or research and development, Cook said.

Of the total, 650 employees now work in Springfield.

By the end of 1999, with the additional employees in Springfield, the company total could be as high as 1,000 employees, Cook said.

Though the company needs the additional manpower, not just in its manufacturing jobs but in all areas of the business, it is difficult to locate employees right now, Cook said.

"It's getting hard to find people, but we offer a pretty competitive package here. The manufacturing jobs start at about $11 an hour," Cook said.

The manufacturing employees also belong to the United Steelworkers Union, Cook said.

"We're all union here. We've had a very good working relationship with the union," Cook said.

Loren Cook Company ships about 880 products per day.

Its industrial and commercial blowers are composed from raw materials, mostly steel and some aluminum, that the company purchases from suppliers all over the country. The company ships its products through contract haulers, mostly trucks.

The company has come a long way, literally and figuratively, since Loren Cook, a native of Spokane, Mo., began it in 1941 in Berea, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

At that time, the company made four or five products, and had a staff of about 20. Now, it produces 40,000 catalog items.

Loren Cook had been a manufacturers' representative for an electric motor company until he agreed to make some fan parts for a competitor that was the largest producer of fans at that time. He put his own name on the parts, and the company began.

Jerry Cook came to Springfield to open a Cook plant in 1964, and in 1972, the company moved its headquarters to Springfield.

Loren Cook died in 1987, and the original plant in Ohio closed in 1991. Jerry Cook's three children now work in the business, marking the third generation's entry into the company.

Cook said the expansion is a result of the company's hard-working employees, who have fueled its growth.

"We've been fortunate to have good people working for us. It's a very exciting time for us here to get to see this kind of growth. We would not have been able to achieve that without the dedication of our employees," Cook said.

PHOTO CAPTION:

Jerry Cook's father, Loren Cook, founded the company in 1941.[[In-content Ad]]

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