New Grating Facility Highlighted
By Will Johnson
GRAPELAND – The Grapeland Chamber of Commerce hosted their monthly mid-morning coffee on Thursday, June 17 at Vulcraft, a Division of Nucor, as the largest employer in Houston County showcased their newly opened grating facility.
Vulcraft GM Josh Wall led off the meeting and welcomed everyone in attendance.
“We had everyone out about a year and a half ago when we did a tour of the joist shop. It was great to have you here and I remember riding around with you and seeing everything we are doing here. This building (grating) has gone up in the last year. We are really getting this business off of the ground. We have folks here from Vulcraft-Utah, our sister division. We have new grating teammates here and out in the shop over there. We have a lot going on and it is an exciting time to be a part of Vulcraft-Texas,” he said.
Wall then turned the floor over to Chris Gibbs, the regional sales manger for grating.
“I wanted to try and start from the beginning and paint a picture of how this came to be here in Grapeland, Texas,” Gibbs said as he began.
Nucor acquired a grating company called Fisher and Ludlow in 2007, along with other grating assets from another company known as Amoco in 2016, Gibbs said.
The corporation took a hard look at the acquisitions and decided it would like to make a few changes to the newly acquired grating operations “… so we can increase our standing in our product group. The corporation trusted us in Grapeland to take that mission on. It was a huge honor for us and $26-$28 million later, along with lots of man hours, we have this building. We completed ahead of time and under budget. Since that time, we have seen a lot of growth with the plant.”
Gibbs went on to say in the last 18 months the corporation had added 153 new employees and since 2021, 86 new jobs have been created.
“We are really excited to continue to bring jobs into the community, along with opportunities. A couple of those have been transfers from other Nucor facilities, transplanting to the great state of Texas,” he said.
“The (grating) business,” he continued, “we are very excited to say – Josh gets to brief corporate next month – but we are excited to say within the really two months we have been operational, we are profitable. It wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of many of the teammates within the community.”
Next to speak was Human Resources Supervisor Rhonda Wuerch.
“I have been with Vulcraft for the past 15 years and it has been my pleasure to work with all of the scholarship kids during that time. I am always blown away by Nucor’s scholarship program. Since 1974, Nucor has paid out over $109 million to help our kids further their education,” she said.
Wuerch went on to say recently, she received a letter from an area high school senior inquiring about a scholarship. Despite not having a parent working for Nucor, Wuerch said she took it before the scholarship committee to see what else the corporation could do to help in the community.
“Our leadership team decided to award up to four, $2,500 scholarships and we started this year. We developed a scholarship committee and we expect this to grow year-after-year,” she said.
Drafting Supervisor Ashley Owens was next to speak and extolled the benefits of being able to work for Nucor in her hometown.
She explained recently, Chris Cravens with Latexo ISD had approached the company about what she called an externship.
“He came in and we talked about the benefits, what it does, how it could help the community and how we could help kids in school who are about to graduate. What we have done this week is have (Latexo FFA Advisor Larry) Mr. Langford here. We are also working with Workforce Solutions out of Lufkin. They are setting up this program and sponsoring it. He (Langford) is coming in to try and understand the career paths we have here,” Owens said.
“A lot of people, from the outside looking in, when they think about Vulcraft, they think about welders. They say, oh they just hire welders. Well, we hire engineers, we have IT network administrators, we hire drafters and we hire all kinds of other positions. Shipping, diesel mechanics and there are a lot of other types of positions we have to offer,” she added.
Owens explained during Langford’s visit to the facilities, the hope was he would learn about the different career paths available, be able to bring that back to the district and share it with the students.
She went on to say that next year, there was a plan in place to allow seniors, and possibly a few juniors, to shadow some of the Vulcraft employees in order to see what they do, based on their interests.
“We just think this is a great way to show the kids what real life is,” Owens said. “If these kids know about the great careers we have here, then that is a win.”
Following the various presentations, members of the Chamber were offered a tour of the state-of-the-art grating facility and shown how the product was manufactured.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.