A prominent East Jordan employer is gearing for major changes to one of its facilities that has lined the small town’s shorefront for 133 years.
EJ, formerly known as East Jordan Iron Works, will uproot foundry operations from its longtime facility in the area including 350 employees to a new location roughly 13 miles east in Elmira.
“We’ve grown significantly over 133 years and the current foundry is our original site,” said Tom Teske, general manager of EJ. “It’s been updated many times, but now we’re at a point where we’ve seen the new technology available, and we’ve decided it’s best to build a new location from the ground up.”
The infrastructure production company selected a site near the intersection of M-32 and U.S. 131 for the new facility, but the project is not final, Teske said. Many details still need to be worked out with state and local officials.
“Our announcement was a little premature, but we mainly did it so our employees understood what we were trying to do,” he said.
EJ plans to retain all 350 employees through the relocation. Teske said the company worked extensively with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Northern Lakes Economic Alliance to keep foundry operations in Northern Michigan and ensure the new location suited employees.
“Our number one priority of this project was to make sure all our current workforce stays employed,” Teske said. “We worked hard to find a feasible location for them.”
Teske said the company’s plans to build a “smart” foundry, with top-of-the-line equipment technology, could even create additional jobs in the new facility.
“Everything will be state-of-the-art,” he said. “When you do that, you need a lot of different talents from electricians to highly qualified maintenance workers to programmers.”
It is too early to say how many additional jobs, if any, would come from the relocation. EJ plans to train all current foundry employees on the new equipment before searching for new talent, Teske said.
“Our current workforce is our number-one priority in this project,” he said.
Several upgrades at the new location modern foundry automation equipment, premier environmental controls and a technology-based production system are expected to revamp the foundry’s image. One substantial change in energy supply may even make it unrecognizable as a foundry from the outside, Teske said.
“We use coal to melt the metal products in our current facility, but operations to melt metal at the new facility will be fueled entirely by electricity,” he said. “It will be much cleaner.”
EJ plans to break ground on the facility this spring, with a goal to move into the new foundry by fall of 2018 and have full production underway by February of 2019, Teske said. The company will phase employees out of the current foundry, which will remain in full operation until production starts at the new facility.
“Our employees won’t have to miss a day of work, and we’ll be able to keep supplying customers,” Teske said.
EJ operations surrounding the 450,000-square-foot foundry in the East Jordan Industrial Park including the company’s headquarters, pattern shop, product design group, water product facility and Northern Michigan sales office will stay where they are, Teske said.
The foundry itself eventually will be torn down. No plans have been made for the land, which includes a section of frontage on Lake Charlevoix, but city officials have begun to discuss its potential use. The company met with East Jordan’s mayor, city manager and Chamber of Commerce last week, said Teske, also president of the East Jordan Downtown Development Authority.
“We’ll meet on a regular basis with the city officials and planning commission to work on a redevelopment plan for a significant amount of the property,” he said. “We’re very committed to East Jordan, so we’ll work on what we hope is the absolute best plan for the city.”
EJ was founded in 1883 by William Malpass as East Jordan Iron Works to produce castings for machine, ship, agricultural and railroad parts. Its foundry withstood 133 years of operation, in which the company shifted production to access solutions for water, sewer, drainage, telecommunications and utility networks. EJ has become an international name under current fourth-generation owners Fred, Tracy and Tad Malpass. The company has branches across the country and foundries in Europe, China and Australia that supply infrastructure products to 150 countries.