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Highland Manufacturing employees work on building different styles of homes on the plant floor in Worthington. Brian Korthals/Daily Globe

What’s in a name?

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WORTHINGTON — The home manufacturing company located on Rowe Avenue in Worthington has been known by a few different names over the years.

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It started out as Bendix, then was bought out by Boise Cascade. Next it was called Commodore, and after an almost one-year shutdown, it was restarted by local investors as Highland Manufacturing. In 2006, it was bought by Champion Enterprises Holdings and took on the Champion name.

But people continued to refer to the operation as Highland, and the Highland sign still stood in front of the building. So now, as part of a company-wide marketing campaign, the Worthington facility is being rebranded to its former moniker — Highland Manufacturing.

“We’re going back to what everybody in the community knows us as and what our customers know us as,” explained General Manager Ron McCaslin, adding that other Champion-acquired plants are doing the same thing during branding roll-outs scheduled throughout April.

At Highland, the occasion was marked with the presentation of company T-shirts with the new Highland logo to all employees and a cookout on Friday.

“We pushed it to the end of the month so, hopefully, the weather would be a little better,” said Highland Human Resources Manager Kim Kuechenmeister.

Highland has nearly 160 people on its local workforce — each with a specialized task in the assembly-line-type building process that turns out manufactured and modular homes.

According to McCaslin, the Highland plant turns out several types of buildings. The bulk is HUD-code product — conforming to nationally dictated building standards — which includes the Prairie View Collection and Creekside Series homes with various floor plans available. The next biggest chunk of business is in the modular code — an international residence standard — that has the advantage of being more widely accepted in city settings.

Additionally, Highland will also build special projects, including apartments, townhomes and duplexes, as well as some commercial structures.

The resulting products are a long way from what were once known as “mobile homes” or “trailer homes,” now incorporating top-of-the-line finishes and modern amenities.

“We have granite countertops, some real high-end products here,” noted Kuechenmeister.

Last year, the Highland plant had an output of about 750 homes, plus three special projects on top of that, McCaslin detailed. Many of the company’s products have recently been going to the North Dakota oilfields to house the workers.

McCaslin attributes the plant’s efficiency to its specialized workforce.

“What makes this type of housing efficient is they come here and do the same job every day,” he said while giving a tour of the manufacturing floor. “They’re not learning a new skill or doing things they are unfamiliar with. What makes the business good is these people are assembly people, taught to do a certain job and repeat that job.”

To improve efficiency, a number of improvements have been made in the plant in the last year, amounting to a $1.3 million investment. The manufacturing space is now literally busy from top to bottom, as a mezzanine level and new catwalk system were added to provide more space and safe access to all levels of the structures as they are being built.

McCaslin, who with his wife runs a graphics company in Tampa, Fla., came out of retirement from Champion to assume management of the plant last year. He will turn it over to a new general manager next month and return to his Florida home.

“I was supposed to be here four months, and now 11 months have gone by,” he said. “There’s a new gentleman starting as general manager soon. I’m just holding the fort down.”

But McCaslin is proud of what has been accomplished at Highland during his short tenure, and he knows every employee by name as he strolls through the plant.

“I’ve been doing this for 42 years, and I’ve never seen a plant that builds the diversity this plant does,” he said.

For more information on Highland Manufacturing products, go to www. highlandmanufacturing.com.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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