Metalsa ramps up Gladiator frame production

Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer | awarren@messenger-inquirer.com Eddie Goodwin, production supervisor, right, shows a group of students from Owensboro High School some of the production line on a Manufacturing Day tour on Friday of the Metalsa Structural Products Inc. facility in MidAmerica Airpark.

Two years ago, when Metalsa Structural Products Inc. hosted students from Owensboro High School on a Manufacturing Day tour of the plant, it employed 233 people.

Today, Tyler Cornelius, a human development specialist at the plant, told another group of OHS students Friday, there are between 410 and 415.

And the plant still has "now hiring" sign in front of its facility in MidAmerica Airpark.

The accelerated hiring came as the Mexico-based company began ramping up to produce frames for the 2020 Jeep Gladiator -- the company's first truck since 1992, when the XJ Cherokee-based Comanche went out of production.

Production of frames for the Gladiator began in April, Cornelius told the students.

The plant also produces frames for the Toyota Sequoia and engine cradles for the Toyota Highlander and the Toyota Sienna.

The Toyota frames are trucked to the Princeton, Indiana, plant.

The Gladiator frames are shipped to Toledo, Ohio, through the Owensboro Riverport, Cornelius said.

The price of the Jeep truck ranges from $33,545 to $60,000 or more, according to various websites.

It has a towing capacity of 4,000 to 4,500 pounds and is said to get 17 miles per gallon in town and 22 on the road.

The Green River Area Development District partnered with Metalsa to bring the students to the plant Manufacturing Day.

Cornelius told them that Owensboro Community & Technical College offers a GO FAME program that lets students spend two days a week in the classroom and three working in manufacturing.

They earn an associate's degree, which the company pays for, and earn while they learn.

Starting pay is $25 an hour, Cornelius said.

Eddie Goodwin, a production supervisor, told the students that the plant's goal is making 48 Sequoia frames an hour and 30 Gladiator frames.

Robotics, Cornelius said, is a growing field as more companies shift some of the repetitive work to robots.

Skilled workers are needed to keep the robots functioning, he said.

At Metalsa, robots do the welding, among other things.

Early next year, Goodwin said the plant will begin working on the next-generation Highlander and Sienna.

Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, klawrence@messenger-inquirer.com

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