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Monogram Meat Snacks to further expand workforce in 2018

Monogram Foods CEO Karl Schledwitz (left) stands with the Monogram Meat Snacks Operating Manager Kevin Kuechenmeister and Plant Manager Pat Tocco. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)

CHANDLER — Monogram Meat Snacks added roughly 35 jobs last year after investing $5 million in new equipment and energy-efficient lighting.

This year, the plant intends to add more than 30 additional jobs — which will bring the plant to its capacity at around 455 employees — and invest millions more into renovations, said Karl Schledwitz, chairman and CEO of Monogram Foods.

“We’re investing and we’re growing, that’s what we do,” Schledwitz said, noting that the plant has more than tripled its workforce since Monogram took over in 2006.

The plant, which can produce more than one million meat snacks per week, has given out pay raises every year for 12 straight years, Schledwitz said. The entry-level wage is now around $14 per hour with benefits — Schledwitz said he wants to get that number to $15.

“Rural America is shrinking — that’s our biggest challenge, attracting and retaining good talent, so we try to stay competitive by offering good wages and good benefits” Schledwitz said.

Knowing how deep the workforce challenge runs in southwest Minnesota, Schledwitz likes to make investments that make the job more desirable for workers. As a majority of the plant’s workforce comes from Worthington, the company offers a bus service that picks up more than 100 workers from Walmart.

The company also invested money into a trainer and continuous improvement manager to help employees climb the company ladder.

Schledwitz said many entry-level employees have worked their way up to management roles. For example, Kevin Kuechenmeister started at then-Huisken Meats in 1984 as a laborer. Through several promotions and company name changes, Kuechenmeister became operations manager in 2015.

“It’s investing in the plant and it’s investing in people — it’s like no other plant I’ve worked at,” said Plant Manager Pat Tocco, noting that Schledwitz personally sends cards to employees thanking them for their work. “What CEO of a major company does that?”

Schledwitz also announced the Monogram Loves Kids Foundation will donate $50,000 in grants to local community organizations within 50 miles of the Chandler plant, up from $35,000 last year. Non-profit organizations can apply online on the Monogram Foods website from March to May.