HOUGHTON Somero Enterprises, Inc. is growing so quickly it's having a hard time keeping fully staffed. Since 2011, the Houghton company, which builds concrete-leveling equipment for largely industrial applications, has more than doubled its worldwide workforce, from 70 to 146. About 90 of those workers are at the company's main Houghton facility, and Somero is working to fill half a dozen more positions locally, and about 16 worldwide.
On Friday, state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, toured Somero's M-26 production plant with Eric Kangas, a longtime employee recently promoted to director of operations.
"Somero's back in a big way," Kangas said, referring to a period in the late 2000s when the company had to scale back due to an economic downturn. He said the company's annual revenue increased 40 percent from 2012 to 2013, to about $45 million dollars, and that company projections predict revenue doubling by 2018. Somero is now selling and servicing products in over 90 countries, he noted.
The economic impact spreads to other local companies as well, Kangas said, including metal fabricators like Royale, Inc. of Kearsarge and Northern Tool & Engineering of Baraga, both of which produce components for Somero's machines.
The growth was exciting news for Dianda, who noted how the economic impact of each hire spreads through the community, with any child of an employee who moves to the area bringing their school about $8,000 in aid, and the entire family's spending helping local businesses.
"If just one person moves here with three kids, that's a great impact," he said.
On the production line, Kangas showed off a recently-built S-22e Laser Screed - a concrete-leveler - that weighs around 15,000 pounds and sells for a base price of about $350,000. He also walked through an area where Somero was refurbishing older units that had been traded in by U.S. companies upgrading their fleets and would be re-sold overseas.
Kangas told Dianda that one of Somero's biggest government-related concerns was ensuring the vitality and growth of Houghton County Memorial Airport, which Somero uses to fly both people and packages.
"We have a service team constantly flying in and out worldwide," he said. "When it closes, we have to jump through lots of hoops to get to our customers. It's a huge resource for us to keep growing."
"It's our lifeline," Dianda agreed. "People don't really know what the airport does up here. It's not just tourism. It's industry and business."
Kangas said the company's greatest growth is currently in China and southeast Asia. Somero now has nearly 20 sales and service employees in China, and "exponentially more concrete is being poured in that part of the world each year than in the U.S," he said.
Somero Human Resources Manager Bonnie Roth said she can't recruit fast enough to meet the company's growth in China, but that filling positions in Houghton is a challenge as well.
"It might be people just not realizing we're here," she said, noting that many of the best applicants hear about jobs through word-of-mouth from employees.
Roth said that while many positions do have requirements, such as a mechanical background for assembly jobs or the ability to travel for customer service positions, there haven't been any specific positions harder to fill than others. The challenge, she said, is simply keeping up with growth in all areas.
Kangas offered some thoughts on the ideal candidate.
"I'm looking for someone who's going to have a sense of urgency to get the job done, and will raise the red flag if they see any problems," he said, "people who will embrace the culture and raise their hand when they need extra training and resources."
To learn more about Somero, go to somero.com. For jobs listings, click the "about" tab.