The smell of dinner rolls wafting over Oakwood is about to grow stronger as King’s Hawaiian plans to expand its production facilities and hire 450 new employees over the next two years.
“They didn’t know they were going to expand this fast,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
The California-based bakery opened its local production line, off H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway, in 2010 after a multistate tour to determine where best to establish a base to meet growing customer demand.
Joe Leonardo, director of manufacturing for King’s Hawaiian, said the company’s interaction with the local community gave management a “high degree of confidence” that Hall County could handle its East Coast operations. And that confidence is now paying off in big ways.
On Monday, King’s Hawaiian signed a partnership with Georgia Quick Start, an arm of the state’s Department of Economic Development, and Lanier Technical College to customize training programs for the expanded workforce needed on its new production lines.
Quick Start has developed job-specific advanced manufacturing and food safety programs and will also provide leadership and pre-employment training.
“The ability to get that done well and quickly is unbelievable,” Leonardo said, adding the programs will help orient workers faster and save the company money on training costs.
Lanier Tech, meanwhile, will provide prescreening programs for potential workers, as well as leadership training programs for management.
Lanier Tech President Dr. Ray Perren said the school’s relationship with King’s Hawaiian would continue for years, long after Quick Start has ended its support programs.
The rapid growth of King’s Hawaiian raises the company’s investment in the local economy to about $100 million. And the coming addition of a 120,000-square-foot production facility solidifies the company’s stake in Hall County.
“It had everything to do with this being a big hub of food-processing talent,” Evans said, adding the logistics of reaching customers this side of the Mississippi made added sense for expanding operations capacity in Oakwood.
The expanded facilities and new production lines will allow King’s Hawaiian to move beyond baking and distributing dinner rolls. The company plans to add hamburger and hot dog rolls to its production capabilities with the opening of the new facility.
King’s Hawaiian is looking to fill a variety of jobs, including machine operators, packers, maintenance mechanics and food safety and sanitation positions. Additionally, support and management staff is expected to be added to handle the growing workforce.
Leonardo said he expects to fill about 150 positions in the next few months, an additional 150 before the end of the year, and another 150 or more next year.
He added that the company is actively recruiting employees through recent job fairs, such as the one held at the Gainesville Civic Center last week, as well as through word of mouth.
“We try to draw from the community,” Leonardo said, adding that hiring locally is important to the company’s sustained success.
“You want to make sure you’re engaging them in a lot of different ways, and making sure the community is robust and vital because that’s how you attract and retain great people.”