Carroll Coolers employees build the wood frames of insulated walls and affix a sheet-metal skin before they are filled with foam.
Carroll Coolers employees build the wood frames of insulated walls and affix a sheet-metal skin before they are filled with foam.

May 15, 2018

A company on the west side of Carroll that manufactures walk-in coolers recently finished an expansion that nearly doubled its workspace and is expected to boost its production potential and number of employees.

Carroll Coolers employs 63 people and is expected to add seven more workers as part of the expansion, said Dave Miller, plant manager.

Starting wages for those new jobs might be about $14 per hour, he said.

Work to expand the building’s manufacturing space last year finished in the fall and enlarged it from about 34,000 square feet to about 53,000.

“It’s a great feeling that they want to invest in us,” Miller said of the business’ parent company, Leer Inc., of Wisconsin.

The increased space made room for updated equipment that will streamline parts of the production process, Miller said.

One new machine in particular will combine several tasks and eliminate the need for workers to cart sheet metal from one piece of equipment to the next to the next.

Carroll Coolers builds its walk-in coolers by manufacturing 4-feet-wide insulated panels that can be assembled at their destinations — most often at convenience and grocery stores. Here’s how the process works:

Workers mill 2-by-6-inch wood boards to be 4 inches wide and cut

them to a length that changes depending on the height of cooler they are building. (Contemporary 2-by-4 boards are shorter than 4 inches wide.)

— A machine notches some of those boards to accommodate cams that are used to attach the walls to each other.

— Workers unroll 4-feet-wide sheet metal that is used to cover the walls. The metal is cut to length, and the edges are bent at 90-degree angles to cover the corners of the wooden walls.

— Workers assemble the wall panels with the wood and sheet metal.

— The walls are placed in an enormous press that keeps the metal from flexing as expanding foam is injected inside them. The press is capable of applying about 1,200 pounds of pressure.

Other workers assemble the cooler doors and do a test assembly of the front wall of the coolers to be sure they will fit the wall opening that is waiting for them at the convenience stores.

The expansion also included a spacious break room and new bathrooms for workers.

The plant operates about 19 hours each day with two shifts.

Perhaps the toughest aspect of the expansion will be finding workers for the newly created jobs, Miller said.

“There’s just such low unemployment that it’s difficult to find people who are willing to make a change,” he said.

But here’s the pitch: Carroll Coolers is employee-owned, so its workers get stock benefits as part of their compensation.

Carroll County’s unemployment rate is extremely low at less than 2 percent, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

“We know the hiring situation is challenging right now, but the Carroll economy is strong and our employers have confidence,” said Shannon Landauer, executive director of the Carroll Chamber of Commerce. “The key right now is quality of place — people want to find a place to raise their families.”

Attracting people — especially young families — to town with good housing, child care and amenities has positive effects that reverberate through the local economy, Landauer said.

Miller said expected sales increases in the next two years will likely force Carroll Coolers to hire even more workers.

In May the plant marked one year without an injury that is required to be reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

That’s a pretty big achievement for a manufacturing facility,” Miller said.