At Bal Seal Engineering's new building, the president doesn't have cushy furniture and expensive Persian rugs. It's a facility where equality is the name of the game.
"Our values are reflected in the one-chair concept. If a chair is good enough to be used on the manufacturing floor, it is good enough for the president," says John Stillman, Bal Seal's vice president of corporate development. "If we have sunlight in the offices, we should have sunlight on the shop floor - and installed 422 solar tubes to do that. Since we cannot have carpeting on the shop floor, then there is no carpeting in the president's office."
On Tuesday, the California-based company celebrated the opening of the $37.5 million plant on Colorado Springs' far north side with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach and about 300 others, including employees.
Bal Seal, which has operated a smaller plant in leased space near Garden of the Gods Road since 2006, makes spring-loaded connectors that carry electric current for pacemakers and other medical devices.
"When we began looking for a place to expand, we realized that Southern California was not the place to do that and we wanted a place within a day's drive," President Rick Dawson said during the ceremony. "We selected Colorado Springs over Denver, Phoenix and Portland because it offered us a welcoming business climate and good employees and a good business base."
Bal Seal plans to move its 85 employees next month into the recently completed 155,000-square-foot plant in the InterQuest business park. The company expects to add 25 to 35 employees by year's end and 80 to 90 more by 2016, Dawson said.
Bal Seal is ahead of the hiring schedule the company set when it announced plans for the plant in late 2011. It will still have plenty of room for expansion, since it can accommodate up to 400 employees and has land where it could build an 80,000-square-foot addition, Dawson said.
Both Hickenlooper and Bach commented on the design of the Bal Seal plant, which Bach joked "looks more like a Four Seasons Hotel" than a manufacturing plant with a "common area" that includes a fireplace and employee cafeteria lined with windows facing the Front Range.
Hickenlooper urged local officials to make the Bal Seal expansion a "foundation for other projects that come along," and said the state will do everything possible "to make sure technology and engineering companies like this get all the support they need to grow."
Stillman noted how the image of manufacturing has changed from "men in greasy jumpsuits and carrying wrenches to people in lab coats at microscopes," which he said has virtually eliminated the gap between the president and workers on the manufacturing floor. That led him and other company officials to design a building that incorporated the company's values of equality, transparency and flexibility in its design - values that Dawson said will help Bal Seal recruit young adults for its growing workforce.
"This is a state-of-the-art workplace that appeals to the Generation X workforce and allows us to continue our growth plans, which are very significant in the near future," Dawson said.
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