Vermeer Corp. may have lost two of its manufacturing plants in a July tornado, with a third one left heavily damaged, but the Pella, Iowa-company is using the devastating experience to reboot, expand and move forward.
Plans call to totally rebuild Plants 5 and 6 in 2019 — referred to by company leaders as creating a “blank slate” — as well as constructing a new, separate facility on campus for its engineering group.
Company president and CEO Jason Andringa briefed members of the construction media, as well as the local press, Sept. 5, on how far the rebuilding and return to normalcy have come since an EF-3 tornado tore through the Vermeer manufacturing campus — known as the Vermeer Mile — on July 19. The press event took place just steps from Vermeer’s 3,100-sq ft Global Pavilion, which, in the aftermath of the storm, has been repurposed as the manufacturing plant’s primary parts receiving area. Afterward, the media was given a tour of the damaged plants and update on cleanup.
Hours after the storm — and when it was clear no one was seriously hurt — Vermeer leaders set two goals: Get all employees back to work as soon as possible and resume full production as quickly as possible. Both those goals were met in under 45 days.
“No way I would have imagined that was possible,” Andringa said. “It’s something I’m incredibly proud of.”
Vermeer president of industrial solutions Doug Hundt added that in midst of dealing with storm’s aftermath, that its sales volume in August had actually increased over the same period in 2017.
Andringa and Hundt recounted the day of the tornado, which started as a day of celebration with more than 480 of Vermeer’s dealers and customers onsite to celebrate the company’s 70th anniversary. Once the tornado left, efforts to account for all employees and guests were the priority. The storm resulted in a handful of minor injuries, which Andringa described as “the greatest blessing.”
“We’ve got our people and as long as we’ve got our people, we have everything we need to rebuild,” he said.
Plants 5 and 6 — which house manufacturing of Vermeer’s small and medium size HDD drills, utility tractors and some of its large grinders — were deemed a complete loss. They will be torn down and rebuilt. Currently, production and assets from those plants have been repositioned to the remaining plants.
“[By starting from scratch on Plants 5 and 6,] it gives us time to think through what we want to do,” Andringa said, noting there is no shortage of opinions and ideas for how to make these new plants better and more efficient than the ones that were destroyed.
The new engineering facility will likely be constructed before Plants 5 and 6. Dubbed “Shop 48” in honor of Vermeer’s late founder Gary Vermeer (Andringa’s grandfather) and the year the company was founded (1948), this building will bring together all of Vermeer’s engineering groups under one roof. Currently, they are scattered in the operational plants. Shop 48 will be built on the north side of the Vermeer campus.
“Not only are we recovering, but we are making decisions for how we’re going to come back better than ever,” Andringa said.
Not lost during the early days of rebuilding were the need and effort to make sure current customer orders were being filled. Relying on its dealer network and outsourcing parts production when it made sense, there was little to no impact on meeting customer orders for equipment and emergency parts. Vermeer dealer network began working among themselves, making sure parts and equipment were getting to the customers while production at the Pella facility was temporarily affected, said Vermeer CMO and executive vice president of lifecycle and forage Mark Core, who credits his teams’ improvisation and “whatever it takes” attitude to ensuring that customers needs were met.