By Mike Desotell, Eagle Herald staff writer

Menominee—Odds are fairly good that most people traveling through Menominee on U.S. 41 will drive right past one of the largest employers in town and never know it. Located two blocks off the main highway, L.E. Jones Company keeps a pretty low profile—even though some 365 people walk through its doors each day. What the company lacks in location, it more than makes up for in world recognition. For more than 70 years, L.E. Jones has been making heavy-duty valve seat inserts for some of the biggest names in the business—Cummins, Caterpillar, and Volvo. Those specially designed, made-from-scratch parts have found their way to the four corners of the earth.

Success is no accident to the company that prides itself on tried and tested manufacturing processes and a loyal and dedicated workforce. The combination of these factors has led company officials to recently agree to invest $2 million in new equipment. It’s part of an open-ended multi-year master plan to reinvest in the company. Right now high-tech machinery such as CNC lathe turners, automated inspection equipment, and grinding machines will be going into the 10,000-square-foot addition built-in 2011. While the current phase of development will not involve adding any additional square footage, future phases will. In the coming years the company will be looking at new offices, additional bays, and perhaps a new shipping and inspection area; all on the current footprint in the 1200 block of 34th avenue.

“Realizing we were coming up to a capacity issue here at the plant, I talked to David Doll, who is the president/CEO and owner, about getting some additional capacity in here,” said Daniel Ward, vice president/sales and marketing. Doll then went to Scott Smith, vice president of manufacturing, and his team to see what was needed to increase production. Loaded with ideas, he took the plan to the board of directors, which approved spending $2 million. Smith said there’s plenty of room on the property for a couple more 10,000-square-foot expansions over the next several years.

What does all this mean when it comes to the workforce? Well, by the company’s own admission, the last half of 2012 was not stellar. The company went through some downsizing with layoffs. On the up note, about two-thirds of those who were released have now been called back. “We’re kind of in that phase right now getting everybody that was displaced last year back to work,” said Smith. “When I started here in 2002, I was blown away by the demographic of how many people were here 20 years or more and the knowledge they have.”

Ward agreed, saying, “We’re very proud of what we do here and what our employees do to make world-class parts.”

Smith credited low turnover to the fact that L.E. Jones is a good company to work for. “With a real low turnover, it means we have a lot of people who have been here a lot of years,” he said. “Our experience is really our strong point.”