fbpx
Published in Manufacturing
JR Automation CEO discusses company’s growth trajectory in Holland COURTESY PHOTO

JR Automation CEO discusses company’s growth trajectory in Holland

BY Wednesday, June 01, 2022 04:37pm

JR Automation Technologies LLC — which designs, builds and integrates automated manufacturing and robotic technology on a global scale — has unveiled yet another expansion effort in Holland. 

Craig UlrichCraig UlrichAcquired by Tokyo-based software giant Hitachi Ltd. in 2019, Holland-based JR Automation plans to invest about $9.9 million to overhaul a 110,000-square-foot facility formerly operated by the now-defunct Genzink Steel. JR Automation’s latest announcement comes after the company completed a 147,000-square-foot expansion late last year, growing its total number of Holland facilities to eight.

MiBiz recently spoke with Craig Ulrich, who took over as JR Automation’s CEO in February 2021, on how the company continues to find opportunity in Holland, especially in a tight industrial real estate market.

JR Automation has locations throughout the country but retains a strong commitment to Holland as it grows. What is it about Holland that helps meet the growth needs of the company?

I think we just have a strong technical background here. I think we have strong ties with (Grand Rapids Community College) with the apprenticeship programs there. The Holland school districts are very supportive — we do get a large amount of recruitment out of all the different school districts throughout, not just Holland, but in all other surrounding school districts. They really have a strong commitment to trades, which is kind of nice. You don’t find that in a lot of other areas around the country. I feel like we have a pretty good pipeline coming out of our high schools and I think we have a really nice program where we can put our young apprentices through the program at GRCC. It just works really well for us.

The Michigan Strategic Fund board approved a $2.25 million grant in support of JR Automation’s latest expansion. In your view, how aggressive has the MEDC been when it comes to creating incentives to lure new business and support existing ones like yours?

I think they did a really nice job. Are other states sometimes more aggressive? Yes, they are. But I think MEDC does a really nice job. We do have remote machining capabilities in some of our business units in other states. What we were really looking at was not necessarily consolidating and then taking out those, but maybe creating a more central location to handle all those locations. I think the incentive package was quite nice (for the Holland expansion). I do think they were very aggressive in making sure they try to maintain a fairly large employer here in Holland and we do have a strong commitment to Holland. It was really nice to see that they were able to continue to support us — not just companies that are looking to come into the state, but also maintain and make sure companies stay here in the local area.

How fortunate was JR Automation to have a facility of this size open up after Genzink Steel closed its doors last year?

Pure luck. Although, the harder my team works, the luckier we get. So, you take advantage of things like that. It’s a shame — Genzink was a good employer here in the area. It was a shame that they had some economic problems, but when someone is struggling, sometimes it’s nice to be able to fill a gap there. We have people that work(ed) for Genzink working for us now. We hired some of their people. You would never wish on anyone poor fortune like that. But I would hope the community would see that, ‘Hey, OK, this company had a bit of misfortune but a company like JR was able to kind of come in and fill that gap a little.’

Is this pace of expansion something we can expect to continue? And if so, do you anticipate eventually running out of options in Holland?

I think we have been lucky for many years in Holland. And, again, the harder you work the luckier you get. I think that we expect to continue to be lucky here in Holland in maintaining our ability to grow with new options.

You’ve said before that the marriage of JR Automation and Hitachi brings together capabilities that will open up new opportunities. Are you at a stage where the company is capitalizing on those opportunities?

We had pursued Toyota for many, many years — we never did work for them. We won a nice project with Toyota and I would say that’s mainly because of Hitachi. We are working with Honda right now. Honda is a very closed organization. They don’t just go out and work with anyone. We feel like that synergy with Hitachi is allowing us to pursue Honda. We haven’t really done any work with them yet but we feel like that is imminent.

Never miss MiBiz’s biggest stories and breaking news. Sign up to get our reporting sent straight to your inbox every weekday morning.
Read 2401 times
SUBSCRIBE TO MIBIZ TODAY FOR WEST MICHIGAN’S FINEST BUSINESS NEWS REPORTING >