Meeting the Challenges of Staffing in a Small Town
EFI's Lynn Lane fills top jobs in a rural Alabama town
When EFI Automotive opened its first U.S. office in 1995, the company headquartered in Beynost, France, selected a Detroit, Michigan, area location. But as the automotive industry expanded across the Southeast, EFI Automotive, also known as Electricfil Corp., which fabricates electronic components used in transmissions and engines, looked south for its second U.S. location.
In 2004, EFI opened a plant in Elkmont, Alabama, a remote town outside Huntsville, and in 2005 began shipping out sensors for its OEM customers.
That small town location in north Alabama has turned out to be a positive decision for the company. In May 2015, EFI celebrated 10 years of production in Alabama, along with the grand opening of its new North American Headquarters — a new, 81,000-square-foot facility in Elkmont in rural Limestone County. The company has grown by nearly 40 percent in the past year and a half, and with 250 employees, it is one of the largest employers in the county.
Lynn Lane, human resources manager for EFI Automotive’s North American operations (including research and development and manufacturing operations in Alabama, an office in Michigan and a plant in Mexico), has played an important role in recent growth. Although EFI’s parent company is a Tier 1 automotive supplier that supplies “nearly all the OEMs in the world,” recruiting top- notch workers to rural Alabama is no small feat. “When EFI arrived here, the market in the Southeast was really starting to take off,” Lane says. “But as we are located just outside of Huntsville, we are competing for talent with a larger labor market. EFI Automotive is not a household name, but we have a great story to tell.”
Prepared for the Role
When she arrived at EFI Automotive, Lane wasn’t new to the electronic manufacturing business. In the early 1990s, she worked in human resources for Plexus Technology Group Inc., a successful and growing electronics development and manufacturing company. In 1994, she joined Menasha Corporation/Menasha Packaging, a 150-year-old family-owned company with a presence in all regions of the United States. There, she progressed through the ranks as corporate recruiter, human resources manager and regional human resources manager.
Originally from the Midwest, Lane moved to Tennessee in 1995 with her job at Menasha, and in 2002, a bit further south to Athens, Alabama, not far from Elkmont. Because she had worked with Menasha’s launch in Limestone County, local leaders asked for her help when EFI began considering the location. “Tom Hill, president of the Limestone County Economic Development Association, called on me to assist an area newcomer by sharing information about available resources, the labor market, benefits and compensation strategies,” Lane says. “This newcomer was EFI Automotive. I didn’t realize I was being interviewed; I thought I was just helping out.”
Eventually, EFI offered Lane a job, and she decided to join the company’s start-up team. Both of her previous companies shared commonalities with EFI, she says, as one manufactured electronics and the other was a longtime family company.
“EFI Automotive encompasses both; as an 80-plus-year-old, family-owned company and one that focuses on advanced technology, innovation, sustainability in manufacturing, its people and its customer base,” she says. “I have learned a tremendous amount in the 13 and a half years I have been with EFI Automotive and I continue to have the pleasure of working with a team of talented and dedicated employees from all over the world.”
While Lane knows firsthand the advantages of making a career at EFI Automotive, it can be challenging to communicate those positive attributes to the right candidates in a competitive labor market. Not only is the company’s headquarters located in a remote town, but Huntsville, the largest nearby city, is home to booming technology and defense industries that employ large numbers of engineers. “We struggle a bit because we compete with the Huntsville marketplace and defense contractors go after the same type of employees that we do,” Lane says.
Being in a such a competitive marketplace hasn’t kept Lane from hiring scores of qualified employees in the past year or so. “This is a challenge that we faced head on and one that we have met by offering opportunities to interns and entry-level engineers, technicians and others looking for a place to learn and grow in their careers,” she says. “We offer challenging and rewarding work at all levels of the organization and, in many cases, the opportunity for international travel, customer and supplier involvement and a variety of career pathways to be explored.”
For instance, Lane works closely with local schools and colleges to provide pathways from the classroom to a career. EFI has partnerships with the University of Alabama at Huntsville, Calhoun Community College and the Limestone County Career Technical Center. While hiring has leveled off currently, she expects to start ramping up again next year.
“The people we recruit tend to stay here,” Lane says. “There are lots of opportunities for advancement, involvement in the business and international travel, and that’s attractive to a lot of people. EFI Automotive is firmly rooted in its long-standing values of entrepreneurship, sincerity, responsibility to its employees, customers, shareholders and the environment, respect, flexibility and agility, and being focused on our targets and what lies ahead.”
With more than a decade of experience building electronic components in north Alabama, EFI is going strong. And Lane’s appreciation for the company and the area makes her an ideal leader to continue building a strong workforce for EFI’s future. “I look forward to the company growing its presence in North America and globally, and I am grateful to work for a forward-thinking organization, such as EFI Automotive,” she says.