Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 17, 2018
Workforce Appreciation

The resiliency of snail mail

Employees at MackayMitchell in MP believe envelope company will ‘be in business forever’
By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Apr 19, 2018
MackayMitchell goes through a lot of paper every day, printing 3.7 billion envelopes at their Mt. Pleasant facility every year.

MackayMitchell Envelope Company believes they are going to be in business forever.

In fact, when demand for their product increased a decade ago, the Mt. Pleasant branch transitioned their eight-hour work days into a 24/7 operation. Even as snail mail goes out of style and people begin paying their bills electronically, employees at MackayMitchell know that envelopes will always be a necessity.

“I’m looking at it and I’m getting my mail, they always include a return envelope,” said MackayMitchell employee JJ Feehan. “Some people call it junk mail, but I don’t ever see the envelope business going down.”

Feehan works as an adjuster at the company, setting up machines and ensuring orders are filled. When his Airforce dad moved the family to Mt. Pleasant when he was eight years old, he recalls knowing that MackayMitchell was a good company way back then.

Now going into his sixth year in the business, Feehan considers other employees of MackayMitchell as close as family.

“When I interviewed, I knew it wasn’t a typical company,” Feehan said. “Duane (Blint) is out on the floor. It feels family oriented.”

Blint is MackayMitchell’s plant manager, and as passionate as he is about keeping his operation organized and on schedule, he is just as passionate about ensuring the well-being of his employees.

Believe it or not, Blint never saw himself in the business of printing envelopes. In fact, after he graduated high school in the 1980s, he went off to junior college in western Iowa to study agriculture with plans to return to his family-owned farm west of New London.

Blint’s plans were derailed, however, when the farm crisis struck. He applied and began working for MackayMitchell with plans to stay there for a few years before returning to agriculture.

“I’ve loved working here so well I moved up the chain and 35 years later, I’m still here,” Blint said.

In all that time, Blint has seen a lot of changes. Not only have they transitioned from typical 40-hour weeks to a full-time production, but Blint has seen the staff grow and the building go through several remodels and six additions.

While the photo business side of MackayMitchell has shrunk in recent years, Blint said the company has made improvements on the digital side of it, partnering with companies like Costco, Shutterfly and Walgreens.

MackayMitchell’s envelopes are also used when people receive credit card statements, with a return envelope tucked in with the bill for people to send in their payment.

Between MackayMitchell’s corporate headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., a small facility in Portland, Ore., and the Mt. Pleasant office, 5.2 billion envelopes are produced every year, 3.7 of which come out of the Mt. Pleasant facility. Currently, there are between 185 and 190 MackayMitchell employees in Mt. Pleasant, but Blint said a full staff would be more like 210 employees.

“We’re like everyone else in Mt. Pleasant,” Blint said. “We’re hiring.”

With the 24/7 schedule, employees have longer days, but get every other weekend off and only work 15 out of 30 days a month. Blint knows it’s tough for his employees to work on a 24/7 schedule, especially during the summer months when it takes time away from the family, but working every other weekend is a “shared pain” and what is best for all employees.

In fact, getting that many days off appeals to them, especially with some employees driving 40 or more miles each day to work, a distance that would be less than ideal if they were working five or more days a week.

“I hear from employees that it does allow them to spend more time with family,” Blint said. “I think family should come first.”

Tina Sylavong, who has been an operator at MackayMitchell for seven years, said that she absolutely loves working there. In fact, her mom worked at the company for 20 years before Sylavong took a job at MackayMitchell.

“It’s a really laid-back job,” Sylavong said. “You would think a factory would be rapid-fire work, but everywhere you turn there’s someone willing to help you.”

Although MackayMitchell doesn’t currently have any designated employee appreciation days or events, it is something management wants to work toward in the future. Blint said that weekend schedules make it difficult to plan family fun days for employees that everyone could take part in; however, they do want to come up with a solution.

Another change Blint has seen is the type of employees coming into the workforce. As the workforce changes with each generation, Blint said the drive is different, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem is that the skills needed on the production floor at MackayMitchell are not skills that can be learned in college.

“We struggle on finding the skilled labor portion,” Blint said. “We can give them training and the means to be successful here. It’s a challenge for us, but worth the challenge as we have individuals who want to learn the trade.”

MackayMitchell needs employees with a background in mechanics, either car mechanics or maintenance experience. Even with that experience, however, a lot of the work done on the machines at MackayMitchell is self-taught.

Like Rick Brecht, who has been an adjuster and a technician for 30 years at MackayMitchell. Brecht said when he started, no one really trained him how to maintain the machines. When new machines came in, a technician worked with employees in Mt. Pleasant for a week and a half and left it in their hands.

It’s clear when Brecht talks about his job and the machines — which he calls his machines — that MackayMitchell is more than a job for him. The company has flown him all around the world to look at used machines and determine whether or not they were a good deal. He has been to England and Greece twice and the last places he visited were Singapore and Malaysia.

“It’s almost like going to school when you get here,” Brecht. “For adjusters, it takes eight months to a year of training to learn their jobs.”

Brecht still is learning and sees his job as a new challenge every day. He also loves teaching new employees and sees each person individually and learns how they think to best teach them about the envelope business. In that way, Brecht calls himself a “big thinker,” something you have to be to be successful in this job.

“We have people (like Brecht) who have years of experience excited about training (younger employees),” Blint said. “MackayMitchell is a good company that trains well if we can find the right individuals.”

Blint said that right individual is someone who has a drive to succeed, to show up to work every day and who is excited about learning. Those types of people could have a long career at MackayMitchell if they wanted to.

“We have to get the younger generation interested in the envelope business,” Blint said.

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