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Genzink Steel celebrates 50 years, new emphasis

When the structural steel market came crashing down in 2008, Genzink Steel bent, but didn’t break.

The crash was a result of the fewer buildings being built in Southwest Michigan. Revenues dropped 40 percent, and during a 5-month period, more than half of the company’s employees, about 130, were laid off.  

Focus shifted to plate fabrication — making heavy-duty custom parts from thick steel sheets.

This year, as the Holland-based company reaches its 50th anniversary, it is busy making coal shuttle cars, railroad equipment, vehicle chassis and custom kits of heavy-duty steel pieces for a variety of national clients. The company has hired back 40 employees since the layoffs and is planning for careful growth, said John Maxson, Genzink Steel’s chief operating officer.

“What we found was, we fit on a national playing field better than we ever thought we would,” Maxson said. “People around the country were looking for skilled craftsmen with companies that had a disciplined manufacturing setup.”

Genzink Steel fit the bill. Starting in the early 2000s, the company had started to develop a manufacturing setup for serial production of some projects.

It was a stretch from the company’s roots in custom fabrication and structural steel, Maxson said, where parts are made on an individual basis. Fabricators searched the building for pieces of steel needed to finish their projects, he said. Raw sheets of steel were stored at both ends of the building.

“It is a cultural change to go from a job-shop mentality to a manufacturing  mentality,” Maxson said.

Today, a designated employee collects the pieces of steel needed for projects into “kits” the fabricators can work from. A small inventory of steel plates is kept at the east end of the plant, and the projects generally move from the east to west along the work floor as employees work on them.

The company recently celebrated producing its 250th coal shuttle car for Joy Mining Machinery.
Sales Manager Dick Bouman said the company’s dedication to customer service has remained the same since he joined the company in 1979. And employees are still loyal.

“It’s really special, because when the company was that small, they treated us all like family, which was a very positive thing,” Bouman said. “And even today, all them employees here they work with tremendous pride for the family here … almost everybody has Genzink Steel attire of some kind.”

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