Victoria's Caterpillar plant revs up production


Aug. 18, 2012 at 3:18 a.m.
Updated Aug. 19, 2012 at 3:19 a.m.

336E excavator in action

336E excavator in action

The hums and clanks of works in progress filled Victoria's Caterpillar plant Tuesday as workers - some in company T-shirts, others in Caterpillar button-downs - honed in on the yellow machinery.

Although Victoria's hydraulic excavator plant is not yet at full capacity, the facility is open and work is under way.

Crews work one shift a day, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., said Tiffany Morrison, the plant's communications and public affairs manager.

Still, Facility Manager John Jones said in an email that people are on-site 24 hours a day to monitor and secure the facility.

The plant employs about 200 people now, but the plan is to have 250 by year's end, Jones said. While long-term goals call for Caterpillar to employ 800 workers by 2015, he said two main factors affect hiring practices.

Hiring will grow as the market demands, he said, and as additional excavator models go into production.

"While we have goals on production and employment for the long term, our overriding concern is making sure we are producing the best products for our customers," he wrote, "which we think will build customer loyalty and demand over the long run, which should support the work being done in Victoria."

The 336E excavator model - a 36-ton machine Jones said costs about $370,000 - is the only model in production but the plant will eventually produce seven total, ranging from 12 to 49 tons, Chris Heitzmann, Caterpillar's human resources manager, said at a recent Victoria Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

The first four machines were completed and shipped in June, Heitzmann said.

Jones said the company would not say when other models would join the mix, but said Caterpillar was focused on a thoughtful and deliberate production ramp-up.

Once fully up and running, he said it would take about three days, from start to finish, to complete a machine.

Caterpillar in August 2010 announced plans to locate its North American hydraulic excavator plant in Victoria. A ceremonial groundbreaking took place in September of that same year, while the company officially broke ground in April 2011.

On Thursday, almost exactly two years after that initial announcement, the company will host its grand opening event.

Although the process moved along quickly, the company faced one minor obstacle when it came to erecting the walls.

Walls could only be lifted when winds were less than 25 mph, Jones said, noting Caterpillar had to wait for acceptable days to continue the process along.

Those walls made it up, however, and employees made their way into their home away from home.

And, so far, Jones said it's gone well.

"We are very pleased with our reception into the community and our ability to participate in community activities," he said. "Recruiting and hiring have been going extremely well and we are very pleased with our team and the local workforce."

As for the company's corporate level, it isn't all business. There's a sense of humor there, too.

When asked where Caterpillar's Victoria plant fit into the company, Chief Corporate spokesman Jim Dugan's response was simple.

"From what I understand," he said, "it fits in Texas."

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