The day after the company shut down, French, a local businessman who runs a custom modular home manufacturing business, showed up with his business card asking how he could save jobs.
“I wanted to do it as a business opportunity and something the community needed,” French said.
Some of the former employees were able to move on to new jobs, some at other cabinet companies, in machine service, health care or other occupations. Others are still waiting for their call back. For some, times were especially tight. A surge of over 100 ex-employees reportedly showed up at a food bank for free donated food in the week after the layoffs.
“There’s a lot of skilled people. Skilled in the cabinet industry,” French said. “Their skills are limited in usefulness for other things. They’re fantastic craftsmen.”
Three months later, French reopened the factory and has slowly hired back almost 250 employees, about one-quarter of the old workforce, at about a 10 percent reduction in salaries, and raised some prices. He thinks the factory can be profitable at this level and hopes to grow from there and regain the confidence of dealers.
“The cabinet business is a competitive business,” French said. “It’s a complicated business, one that’s difficult to run. If you don’t do everything right, you probably won't last for long.”
Long-time employees given a second chance at the streamlined company are happy to be back.
“Wood-Mode was a family. When you work with people most of your life, we became like brothers and sisters,” said Paul Kehler, a 35-year veteran of the company, rehired to work in final inspection. “That’s why I came back.”
The employees now work four days a week, 10 hours a day, and are asked to do multiple jobs instead of focusing on one.
“I told my foreman, whatever it takes to get this up and running, I’m willing to do,” said Kehler, 58. “I want to see it take off and grow again.”