It’s very satisfying to meet someone who started out working for a company as a teenager and spent his entire career with the same company, rising from hourly employee to plant manager within a 30-year span. We all like to hear the “American dream” story of determination, dedication, and loyalty leading to success for a hard-working man with vision. Someone who has a real passion for his calling. A man who has risen through the ranks, facing all the challenges that 30 years of innovations and acquisitions can bring, to become a company leader with the expertise that only comes with hands on experience. For veteran trailer manufacturer Kevin Black, General Manager of Great Dane Statesboro, it’s all about the satisfaction that comes from watching others succeed.
“I get satisfaction in seeing an employee grow in their job – to see their passion and pride – I love that,” he said.
Black thinks there may be a link between his desire to see others succeed and the hardships his family suffered during his childhood. Before beginning his career in the trailer industry, Black had to overcome some challenges.
“Until I hooked up with my grandparents before entering high school, I was in the foster care system,” shared Black. “My grandparents were able to give me a home and a sense of place, which really helped me.”
The stabilization brought by living with his grandparents helped him get on a good track. Always the kind of student who excelled in math and science, he was drawn to the technical and engineering aspects of building semi trailers.
“I began building trailers while in college,” he said, “I just decided one day on staying with the trailer industry.” Black began his career on the shop floor of Trailmobile Inc., a dry van semi trailer manufacturer in Charleston, IL. Working on the fabrication of non-refrigerated trailers, he became proficient in most of the jobs on the assembly line. “There’s not much I can’t do,” he said, “but nothing was handed to me, I always had to go get it.”
At the Charleston plant for eight years, Black went from the shop floor to Production Supervisor on the reefer (an industry term for refrigerated trailers) line; to Plant Planner in charge of all scheduling and planning; to Quality Inspector checking trailers before completion; working his way up to Dry Line Supervisor. Black left the Charleston plant in January of 2000 to become Plant Superintendent for a $22-million 235,000 sq. ft. refrigerated Trailmobile trailer manufacturing facility in Liberal, KS.
From the Liberal plant, Black moved to Jonesboro, AR, taking over as Production Manager in a dry freight van (non-refrigerated) trailer manufacturing facility also owned by Trailmobile. At the beginning of 2002, Trailmobile’s Liberal, KS, and Jonesboro, AR, plants were purchased by Great Dane Trailers with corporate headquarters in Savannah, GA, and Chicago, IL.
Great Dane is a manufacturer of dry van, refrigerated, and platform trailers. In 2000 the company celebrated its 100th year in business. A pioneer in the refrigerated trailer industry for over 75 years, Great Dane is considered a leader in innovation and research in the transportation industry with seven manufacturing plants and parts distribution centers strategically located throughout the U.S.
In 2010, Great Dane began sweeping changes to its complete product line and expanded again by building the new manufacturing facility in Statesboro. The state-of-the-art refrigerated trailer plant contains 450,000 sq. ft. of production and administrative office space with a 3,000 sq. ft. climate-controlled noise-free customer preview center. The Statesboro plant is dedicated to producing Everest refrigerated trailers, the TL model reefer for truckload carriers, and the CL model reefer, built especially for the special needs of the foodservice industry. Trailers are manufactured on an “L” assembly line on the production shop floor with a labor force of 300; another 30 employees hold administrative positions.
Every trailer is built according to customer specifications with orders coming in from companies like Walmart, Publix, U.S. Foods, Sysco, and Nash Finch. Every component is added by air or electricity, with the newest technologies such as robotic welding and automated production processes.
Great Dane is also known as a company with numerous green initiatives including a building management system to control lights, air quality, and temperature.
The plant builds nine trailers per day with one shift of workers.
“We’re now training to build more high specification units, then open our second shift,” said Black. The second shift could open as early as next year.
When the plant first went on line in 2012, they began with 30-40 employees and grew.
“We began with training our people to build basic refrigerated trailers. Now we can manufacture the most complex reefers out there,” said Black. “Some plants take 10 – 12 years to get to that level. Our people are very close to going high tech for refrigeration customers.”
One of Great Dane’s reasons for locating in Statesboro was moving 400 greatly needed jobs into the area. But, one of Black’s greatest challenges is finding trained workers. In addition to in-house training, he is open and innovative in seeking ways to make training and job opportunities available to the workforce, lending his time and expertise to several workforce development initiatives in the area.
Black works with Quick Start at Ogeechee Technical College to help in getting workers trained. He also participates on committees concerning preparing students for careers in the region, like “Pathways to Prosperity.” He has served on workforce committees, as well, comprised of local industry representatives, Georgia Southern, and county development authority leadership.
Black believes well-trained workers can only benefit Statesboro and Bulloch County’s future.
“We love it here, my wife, and my kids. The people here are very good to us,” said Black. “With Georgia Southern being the type of school it is with the new Manufacturing Engineering degree, and the Eagles – it’s a melting pot of sports, the arts, and industry. Not many communities have that great a quality of life and good public schools.”
Black enjoys the area’s quality of life with wife, Lisa, a nurse at Brooklet Elementary; daughters Megan and Amanda, students at Georgia Southern; and daughter Savannah, a junior at Southeast Bulloch High School. The family likes to attend volleyball games at Georgia Southern and at SEB where Savannah plays.
“We don’t miss a Georgia Southern volleyball game, or baseball – anything sporting. People laugh at me because I like to go to the Averitt Center or children’s plays or anything where people perform,” he said.
Seeing others excel really is his favorite pastime.
“Watching people do what they like to do is a whole different ballgame,” Black said, “I like people. I like to see them succeed.”