Making It In Northern Michigan: Kalkaska Screw Products

Despite its name, there are no screws produced at Kalkaska Screw Products.

“Basically, we make five different types of components, mostly for the automotive industry,” said President Kevin Schlueter. “But no screws.”

From its facility just north of Kalkaska at 775 Rabourn Road, Kalkaska Screw Products (KSP) manufactures an assortment of tiny parts used in air bags, seatbelts, direct injection fuel rails, engine control management and brake systems. Those five areas account for 97 percent of KSP’s production, said Schlueter. The company doesn’t sell directly to automakers, but provides several types of diminutive parts for the suppliers who do.

In addition, the company machines items for the aerospace industry, metered flow components for use in oil fields, and studs for snowmobiles.

KSP was founded in 1996 by Tedd Stewart, who spun the company off from Wayne Wire Cloth and named it Kalkaska Screw products because of the number of screw machines he installed to manufacture parts.

In 2012, Stewart was eyeing retirement, but instead of selling to a traditional buyer he sold KSP to its workers, establishing an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or ESOP.

The majority of pieces manufactured at KSP measure two inches or less. They go into critical safety components  and are highly engineered on the company’s 20 automated Hydromat machining units, some of which cost more than $1 million and produce parts every day, all day long. “Our equipment is expensive,” said Schlueter, a Traverse City native who joined KSP in 2010. “So we need to run it seven days a week, 24 hours a day.”

To accomplish this, KSP runs two 12-hour shifts a day, starting one at 6am and one at 6pm. Employees work four days, earning overtime if they work weekends, then get four days off.

And business at KSP is steadily growing, especially after the company was recognized by the Traverse City Chamber of Commerce as the Hagerty Small Business of the Year in 2013. “We received that in May of 2013 and it really propelled us,” said Schlueter. “It was great for our employees to be recognized for their work and it opened opportunities for us, making connections and providing access to capital.”

Sales soared to $1.5 million a month and in the past two years the number of employees climbed from 46 to 106. The growth is expected to continue with Schlueter predicting another 25 percent increase in orders over the next 18 months. To deal with that, he plans to add 10 more Hydromat machines and hire 20 more people.

“We look for people who have what I call ‘soft skills’,” he explained. “People who want to come to work every day, who are a team player, who can stay out of the drama. They’re 80 percent there if they have soft skills.”

KSP has an in-house training program where new hires are trained, then they job shadow for four to eight weeks. Salaries start at $10 to $12 an hour, with several of KSPs workers earning $60,000 to $80,000, 100 percent company-paid healthcare and stock in the company.