The cabinet factory visited by Gov. Mike Lowry Wednesday echoed loudly with the music of work.
“I love that sound” Lowry said, reacting to the trebly, electric noise created by saws and sanders at Huntwood Industries. “Those are jobs.”
The Valley-based cabinet manufacturer churns out up to 1,100 cabinets a day, shipping them all across the country. It employs about 380 people. And it was one of three Spokane-area companies recognized by Lowry for their “outstanding effort to make a difference” in the state’s Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program.
Lowry said he visited Huntwood because it is located in the bustling Spokane Industrial Park and because the company is enthusiastic about giving people who want off welfare a chance to work.
The JOBS program trains people currently on public assistance and helps them get a new start. The program matches them with employers, and for the first 90 days recipients are with a company, the state subsidizes about half of their wages.
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Craig James, Huntwood’s director of human resources. “It’s a chance to hire, train and hopefully retain people who are happy to be here.”
James said that in recent months, he has hired five people who had been on welfare through the JOBS program. He’ll continue to interview others. “The ones I’ve hired stay.”
Huntwood president and Valley resident Tim Hunt said it also gives the company a chance to make a difference. “I’m for any state program that will help people get back to work,” he said, providing the program puts more money into the economy than it costs taxpayers.
He runs the company along with his wife, Vice President Resa Hunt.
Huntwood isn’t a familiar name to most people here, but the company ships its products to dealers and representatives nationwide. It also operates offices in Seattle, Portland and Phoenix.
The company manufactures cabinets of oak, maple, cherry, hickory and knotty pine. Kitchen cabinets make up the majority of its products, Hunt said, although Huntwood also makes some commercial cabinets.
Devry Mullis, a 24-year-old employee, said he loves making them. Mullis is married and has three children, and is in his second month of JOBS training. His family has been on public assistance since 1991.
Two months ago, JOBS sent him to Huntwood.
“You actually learn something,” Mullis said of his experience.
And a trade career pays a lot better than a fast-food job, he added. “I can’t raise a family like that.”
Fortunately for people in the same situation, more and more companies are lending a hand.
Another of the companies Lowry recognized, Alloy Trailers, is based just west of Spokane but also operates a Valley facility at the Industrial Park. Lowry said there are about 50 Spokane-area companies participating in the JOBS program. Lowry thinks people like Mullis will succeed when matched with a company that cares like Huntwood.
“We liked the attitude they have here,” Lowry said of the company. “Employees in the JOBS program here are very successful.”