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Pella Corp. closely tied to namesake city


Pella Corp., “a city within a city” recently announced that it plans to add 100 new employees, most at its manufacturing facility in Pella, which draws employees from about 90 communities every day

Along with old-world Dutch charm, the Marion County town of Pella is also home to a world-renowned manufacturer of windows and doors that employs more than 3,500 of the company’s 7,000 employees. The company has grown each year since its founding in 1925, according to Kathy Harkema, a spokesperson for the company. In addition to new jobs in Iowa, hiring has begun at its 11th and newest manufacturing facility in West Columbia, S.C.

“We’re continuing to grow, both in terms of the size of our workforce and the awareness of our brand,” Harkema said. “Every year has been a great year for us, and we expect the future to be even brighter. Along with outstanding reputation, the housing economy remains very strong.”

Harkema said a combination of factors have helped grow Pella’s business, including favorable market conditions for homebuilding and national trends supporting home improvements. She says “cocooning,” resulting from the terrorist attacks of 9/11, has changed the way that people spend their money.

“We’ve seen more people put an emphasis on their home and their family in the past few years,” Harkema said. “People seem to view the investment in their homes as one of the best things they can do today. Maybe instead of taking an exotic vacation, they put a higher priority on the enjoyment of their home.”

These external factors have helped revenues, but she also credits the strength of the company to its quality people and products. Pella Corp. President and CEO Mel Haught agrees.

“I think that a big part of our success has been our long history, the culture of the company and the quality of the people,” Haught said. “Our brand is very, very strong, and we’re all very proud of the company.”

For five straight years, Pella has been named one of Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” This year, the company was ranked No. 22 – the only privately owned Iowa company and one of the few manufacturers on the list. Harkema said the ranking is meaningful to the company because it is based primarily on employees’ responses.

Pella Corp.’s history dates back to Des Moines businessman Pete Kuyper, who started the company as a manufacturer of Rolscreen window screens. A year later, in 1926, Kuyper moved the business to his hometown of Pella. It wasn’t until 1992 that the company’s name was changed from the Rolscreen Co. to Pella Corp., an effort to reflect the company’s broad line of products and long-time headquarters in the community. Pella Mayor Darrell Dobernecker said the town has flourished because of its strong manufacturing base, which also includes Vermeer Manufacturing Co., Precision Pulley Inc., Emerson Manufacturing Corp. and others.

“We’ve been blessed by the success that these companies have had,” Dobernecker said. “They are quality organizations, from the top person to the last person on the line, and if we can keep strong industries, we will keep growing.”

The past decade has been full of significant changes for Pella Corp. In 1993, Haught, who was then director of operations, introduced the company to the Continuous Improvement business philosophy. Since then, Pella has incorporated its methodology as a springboard for change.

“Part of the strong culture that we’ve built over the years and during my tenure here has been related to the way that the organization has embraced Continuous Improvement,” Haught said. “We have shown that we’re always looking for ways to make us better.”

Harkema said Continuous Improvement, a concept popularized in Japan as a tool for steady growth and improvement, has improved efficiency, teamwork and working conditions for all employees. An example of the difference the process has made is evident by its streamlined production of custom windows, Pella’s “most variable product.”

“Before we implemented Continuous Improvement, it would take about 18 days from the time a customer placed an order for a custom window until we shipped it,” Harkema said. “Through the results of Continuous Improvement, we’ve been able to cut that time in half. “We’re constantly enhancing the processes and looking at ways to take time out of processes while improving the overall quality.”

Pella now has more products and processes than ever before to evaluate. It holds more than 100 product and design patents in premium-quality windows, entry door systems, storm doors, patio doors, skylights and more. Haught said the company’s focus on innovation will drive business into new markets, which will remain an important focus for the future, considering that the “housing bubble” is expected to slow down in the near future.

“We’ve been expanding our business base,” Haught said. “One thing we’ve done is we’ve put a lot more focus on the replacement market to serve those people remodeling or expanding their homes. And we have new products that have brought us into new price points and markets.”

Haught said two of the company’s newest products driving business are energy efficient ThermaStar by Pella vinyl windows and doors, and Pella Impervia windows and doors, which are made from a revolutionary, durable material called Duracast.

The Pella brand, which is already widely available in all parts of North America and in Japan, continues to gain exposure, Harkema said. Last month, Pella windows were featured on an episode of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The show featured Iowa-manufactured custom windows specially made to accommodate a family with a child who suffered from a sunlight allergy.

“Certainly, our company was very proud to see our products on national television,” Harkema said. “We’re always pleased to see the Pella brand meet the needs of homeowners, and we took pride in being able to help that family.”

Along with meeting the needs of its customers, Pella helps make things possible within the communities where it operates facilities. In addition to Pella headquarters, the company also has plants in Iowa in Carroll, Story City, Shenandoah and Sioux Center. Harkema said the company has sponsored everything from wildlife habitats to events to hospitals.

“We can always count on them to be there for us and help us out in any way that they can, and the company encourages its employees to do the same,” Dobernecker said. “What is always amazing to me is that they bring in a lot of people for middle to upper-level management positions. Most of them seem quite willing to become involved in the various aspects of our community, and it doesn’t take too long before you see those people donning the Dutch costume during Tulip Time.”

This year, Haught was named the corporate chairperson for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Annual Walk to Cure Diabetes. It was the first time the JDRF had chosen a corporate chairperson from outside Greater Des Moines. The company’s team members pulled together and raised more than $458,000 for the walk. Haught said Pella plans to make a tradition of participating and set goals to increase its participation and fund-raising efforts in the years to come.

Haught said the town of Pella will always be a focal point for the company as it looks to the future. Descendants of the founding Kuyper family still live in the community, with “Joan (Farver) as our first lady of the Pella company” and her son, Charlie, as chairman of the board.

“Pella is a close-knit community that has a number of industries as well as local merchants and the college that work very well together to provide us the infrastructure that we need to grow,” Haught said. “Mine is a very rewarding kind of position, to watch how the organization is growing and how employees are able to take advantage of that and grow right with the company.”

Dobernecker said the town looks forward to growth and change along with the success of Pella Corp. and the other industries that feed the local economy.

“It wasn’t very long ago that our population was down around 5,000, and right now, if we include some of our outlying developments, we’re at about 12,000,” he said. “You don’t stand still these days. You get larger and grow and get better, or you go the other way, and we don’t want to go the other way.”

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