Building Careers, Changing Lives: The Impact of a Factory
A factory isn’t just a structure filled with metal and machinery — it’s a beating heart that breathes life into a community. From creating jobs to career opportunities to economic growth, Zekelman Industries can attest to how a factory can become a catalyst for change in 18 locations across North America.
In Rochelle, Illinois, the opening of our new Wheatland/Western Tube factory in 2022 created over 175 new manufacturing jobs in the community with plans to hire another 50 to 60 teammates in the near future. In a community that has a population of about 9,400 people, “this facility, to the area, means jobs,” says Ray Falk, plant manager.
And those jobs have meant a boost to the local economy. Securing employment gives residents a reason to stay, and when they do, they invest back in their community by supporting local businesses. The result is a more stable economic outlook that makes the community a desirable place for multiple generations to live and work.
“We want to be partners with the community,” Falk says. “By doing so, we’ll bring an element of security to the job market.”
For some Rochelle community members, like Jacob Doyle, a job in manufacturing means a lot more than a steady paycheck. It’s the first step toward finding a long-term career path.
Doyle grew up in Rochelle, where he attended high school and jumped from job to job after graduation. Then he found Zekelman Industries. “I’ve bounced around a lot of these jobs here in town throughout the years, and it doesn’t come close to what we’ve got here in this facility,” he says.
Doyle has been at the Rochelle factory for more than a year now. He started on the slitter machine and was quickly promoted to second-shift production supervisor. Part of what keeps him at the company today is Zekelman’s culture of camaraderie and teamwork. “I was a former Marine, so that close, tight culture — I’ve always been attracted to that,” he says.
That sense of unity is ever-present inside the factory walls, and the company’s leaders also make sure it extends beyond them to the rest of the Rochelle community.
For example, company leaders, including executive chairman and CEO Barry Zekelman, have visited with local high schools and nearby colleges to increase awareness about future job opportunities. Having been raised in Rochelle, Doyle recognizes the impact these visits can have on young students, especially those struggling to figure out their next steps after graduation.
“Instead of just getting some job that they’re going to hate for a couple of years, they can come right in here and be successful at it,” Doyle says. “I’m proof of that.”
ZI’s community impact goes beyond its recruiting efforts. Last year, the company donated $7,500 to become the presenting sponsor of the Rochelle Area Community Foundation’s (RACF’s) annual Planes, Trains and Automobiles event in September. The investment “represents their support of not only the RACF but also the support they show for our local community,” said Rochelle Mayor John Bearrows when accepting the donation. “They want to be involved.”
Almost a year later, the Wheatland/Western Tube facility donated another $10,000 to the RACF, continuing its ongoing pledge to support the Rochelle community and make a positive impact.
Executive chairman and CEO Barry Zekelman said it best: “We built this company and operate our manufacturing locations on the belief that we all bear responsibility to ourselves, each other, our families and our local communities.”