Updated: 8:57 a.m. Monday, June 6, 2011 | Posted: 6:05 p.m. Saturday, June 4, 2011

$69M Caterpillar center to hire hundreds

By Thomas Gnau

Staff Writer

CLAYTON — Caterpillar Logistics’ new distribution center here is so big that construction crews took into account the curvature of the Earth when building the 1.6 million-square-foot center.

But as big as the physical structure is, its economic promise stands larger.

About 115 people have been hired so far, and up to 500 more jobs could be added in the next year or so depending on economic conditions, said Jason Murphy, the center’s human resources manager. For a region battered by disappearing jobs, lost wages and economic turmoil, those are reassuring numbers.

Last week, the center started its second shift. By May 2012, the center will be a 24/7 operation, depending on business conditions, Murphy said.

“We’ll probably see a large push in our hiring toward the fall time frame,” he said.

Managers say they’re pleased with the quality of workers hired so far, some of whom have endured prolonged periods of joblessness.

Lisa Hite was one of the first 40 people hired and today is a “grief clerk,” or someone expected to solve problems. After completing her online application, she was called in for further testing the next day and then interviewed.

“I was unemployed for three months before this offer came in,” said Hite. “I’m excited to be here.”

“I want to do my very best to bring these 600 jobs to this place and actively employ these folks,” said Jeff Slocum, the center’s general manager.

The center off Hoke Road south of Interstate 70 received its first shipment May 9. Soon, center employees will package parts and ready them for distribution.

The site is much more than a warehouse. Call it that and Slocum will quickly correct you: “It’s a distribution center,” he said. “We add value to our products.”

About a third of the building will be devoted to packaging. Once the packaging section of the plant is ramped up, additional hiring will occur.

The CAT parts distribution network has been re-worked globally, and the $69 million Clayton center is centrally located to serve five main Caterpillar dealers: Walker Machinery in Belle, W.Va.; Whayne CAT in Louisville, Ky.; MacAllister in Indianapolis; Michigan CAT, which has several locations in that state; and Ohio CAT, based in Broadview Heights.

While those five dealers will be the site’s top priority, the center can distribute to any part of the world. Parts to be distributed will range from those that can be held in the palm of a hand to bulldozer frames weighing thousands of pounds.

“Our ability to get parts to our dealers is really what separates us from our competitors in many ways,” Slocum said.

The company was drawn to the intersection of interstates 70 and 75 as well as what Slocum called the region’s “super-qualified work force.”

Gwen Eberly, economic development director for Clayton, said that in talks that brought Caterpillar to the area, company leaders “had more of an awareness of the competitive advantage you get with the I-75, I-70 interchange.”

Local officials noted not only the interchange, but Dayton International Airport and a heavy freight rail network were instrumental in winning the center. Ground for the project was broken in the spring of 2010.

“I think what our collective team gave them were options,” said Erik Collins, Montgomery County economic development manager.

Already, Eberly and Collins said, Clayton is working on retention and expansion of the center, but there are no specific plans in motion yet. Slocum noted that the facility has room to grow.

“This is a huge win for us, and we think we’re going to have momentum,” Collins said.

The building is big. Walk around the perimeter and you’ll cover a mile and a quarter. And the building is impossible to miss when flying in to the Dayton airport, Slocum said.

Other than the company’s Morton, Ill., headquarters, no other CAT sites are comparable in size. A sister facility to the Clayton center in Waco, Texas, is about half its size. Slocum said he has been in charge of bigger teams of employees but never a physically bigger site.

Caterpillar officials sound as if the company is here to stay. “We’ve got a chance to create a culture and an organization that will be here 50 years from now,” Murphy said. “You don’t get that opportunity very often.”

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2390 or tgnau@DaytonDailyNews.com.

Caterpillar Logistics’ Clayton center

Where: West of Hoke Road, south of Ohio 49, bounded by Kimmel Road and Hoke.

Size: 1.6 million square feet under one roof, with room to grow to 2 million square feet.

It’s the largest commercial building raised in Montgomery County in years. It is about twice as big as the former Cooper Tires building in Moraine. It is second in size to the former General Motors assembly plant in Moraine. The former GM plant has 3 million square feet under one roof, according to Montgomery County officials. The Caterpillar building is bigger than Payless in Brookville and the former Emery building near the Dayton International Airport.

Docks: 100.

Acreage: About 150.

Features: All light fixtures are motion-sensitive. Goal is to not to send waste to landfills.

“It was excavated 100 percent with Caterpillar (products),” Jeff Slocum, center’s general manager.


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