Arauco employees train with equipment at former site for Fred Bear Archery
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A former hub of manufacturing in Grayling has been reenergized to give employees a jump start on training before they go to work in a multi-million dollar particle board plant which will start operations in the community in a few months.
Construction for the $400 million Arauco North American particle board plant, located on 4 Mile Road in Grayling Charter Township, is nearing completion. The goal is for employees to start working in the mill in August, focusing on producing the first products by Sept. 18.
Meanwhile, training for employees who will work at the plant has been ongoing both near and far from Grayling.
Starting Monday, June 18, a total of 60 Arauco employees who will staff the mill started training at the former Fred Bear Archery plant.
Warehouse space is being used to train fork truck drivers, who will be loading trucks, unloading trucks, stacking boards, and unstacking boards.
“That will all be components of their day-to-day operations,” said John Belger, the logistics manager for the Arauco North America plant in Grayling.
Scissor lifts and boom lifts training is also taking place for employees who will work as electricians and will be involved with maintenance at the plant.
The employees will be getting comfortable with how the equipment operates and handles so they can do their work efficiently.
“We’ll put them through there every day. We’re heavily focused on training and safety,” Belger said. “We’re investing in our employees.”
The employees will be certified to operate the equipment at the end their training.
Training is being held in morning and afternoon shifts.
“Rather than having everybody there just sitting around and watching somebody, everybody is having the actual seat time,” Belger said. “To be safe and operate efficiently, the user needs to comfortable with the machines.”
Products which the fork truck operators train with have been shipped in from Arauco mills located in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario and South Carolina for the training.
Employees who will be manufacturing the particle board have been traveling to Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, as well as Moncure, North Carolina to get aquatinted with their jobs.
“What we do is send them to other mills so they can see to the mill in operation, understand the functionality of the mill, and talk with employees on site to get a better understanding of what it entails to do their jobs safely and efficiently,” Belger said.
Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is manufactured at the Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario mill. Particle board and thermal fused laminated boards, which can be made featuring different colors and will be produced in Grayling, came in from other mills for the training.
The main press for the mill, which will be the largest operating in North America, has been installed at the plant. Other machines are currently being installed at the mill.
“There’s a lot of things going on, with other machines getting installed, and we’re getting closer,” Belger said.
Most of the 210 employees who work at the mill have been hired.
“We are still hiring for a few select positions,” Belger said.
Belger came to Grayling for visits in his youth, when the Bear Archery plants was still in production and the Fred Bear Museum was located at Hanson Hills.
The Bear Archery plant opened in Grayling in 1947. The plant employed hundreds of Crawford County residents.
The Bear Archery plant was moved to Gainesville, Florida in 1978.
Belger praised the opportunity to put the Bear Archery property back to use for the good of the community.
“I am avid archer, so it means a lot to me,” he said. “The facility fits our needs well. I’m glad that we could get a facility, and it’s local. It suits our needs well.”
Belger has 30 years of experience in the logistics and supply chain field. He has lived in Grayling since 1995, when his wife, Kimberly Belger, landed a job working at the Grayling Middle School. She currently teaches in the school’s math and language arts lab.
Belger traveled from Grayling to Plymouth, located west of Detroit, to work at a FedEx shipping plant during the week. He was hired by Arauco in October 2017.
“It’s nice to be home and nice and close to work,” he said.
Finding a career opportunity in northern Michigan was Belger’s goal.
“To come full circle, and to live up here, I couldn’t ask for a better situation,” he said. “I love the community and I love the area. This is the place to be in northern Michigan in my book.”
Brian Vanderlip, who will work as a fork truck driver, moved from Saginaw to Roscommon to work at the mill. He said he appreciated getting out of an urban setting.
“It’s more peaceful and the people are friendly,” Vanderlip said.
Hired in June, Vanderlip looks forward to working at the mill after he completes his training. He has a background working in a machine shop and at a lumber yard.
“I love it,” he said. “It’s family oriented. Teamwork is a very big thing here and safety.”