In April 2003, when a major cookware manufacturing facility closed in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, USA, a town of about 35,000 people south of Green Bay on Lake Michigan, most townsfolk thought that was the end of cookware production in their town and the jobs that went along with it.
The high cost of labor and of building technologically advanced manufacturing facilities has driven most cookware manufacturing out of the U.S. The majority of the cookware sold in the U.S. today is made outside the country.
But Tramontina, a Brazil-based cookware and cutlery manufacturer, arrived in Manitowoc to save the day, forming an alliance with a local aluminum manufacturing company, Koenig & Vits, Inc., which had bought the old Mirro plant when it closed.
On July 5, 2005, the factory was reopened and is now producing aluminum nonstick cookware with a variety of exterior finishes – porcelain enamel, commercial satin finish, and colored enamel – for both consumer and commercial food service cooking.
In the first year, the Tramontina Manitowoc facility is projected to produce over six million units of pots and pans, initially employing between 30 and 50 people, with the potential for doubling production in the future.
There are also plans for adding additional workers as production grows, and gradually the company increases its market share and distribution to major retailers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, as output is maximized.
Production currently subcontracted by Tramontina in China and Europe will be gradually transferred to the Manitowoc factory, which will further increase manufacturing and employment opportunities in the United States.
The unusual white knight in this story, Tramontina USA, Inc., is the American subsidiary of Tramontina Group, a privately held Brazilian company headquartered in Rio Grande do Sul, the southernmost state of Brazil.
Founded by Italian immigrant Valentin Tramontina in 1911, Tramontina is today one of the world’s leading manufacturers of household goods, ranging from cookware and cutlery to flatware and kitchen utensils, with 10 factories and 12 distribution centers worldwide. Tramontina products are sold in more than 100 countries around the world.
“Just to give you an idea of the potential impact of this factory on the industry,” explains Antonio J. Galafassi, president of Tramontina USA, Inc., “the total wholesale sales of cookware in the U.S. are currently averaging between $1.8 and $2 billion a year.
“This Manitowoc facility at its peak in the past produced over $250 million in cookware every year. That is a very significant portion of the total market. We think this facility has enormous potential and are very proud to be contributing to manufacturing conducted in the U.S.”
Galafassi comments that an important advantage of the Manitowoc facility is the fact that the plant includes a rolling mill which can produce aluminum from ingots to coils, the raw material from which aluminum cookware is made.
“We are able to produce cookware here in the U.S. because of the cost savings we gained by revitalizing an existing facility, instead of building a new one from scratch, and the fact that raw material can be produced here and need not be transported to the site, which will also shorten lead times,” says Galafassi.
“In fact, I see in the near future the Manitowoc rolling mill exporting aluminum coils to our other Tramontina factories abroad for the production of cookware for their local and export markets. This is a ‘win- win’ scenario,” further states Galafassi.
Tramontina will apply the company’s historical know-how and cutting-edge technology in the making of cookware to the Manitowoc unit by using capabilities readily available in the Brazilian manufacturing units.
“However,” says Galafassi, “we are relying mainly on the highly skilled local workforce and the long tradition of cookware manufacturing in Manitowoc. I had the opportunity to meet personally with local employees and managers, and I was extremely impressed with their skills and enthusiasm for the venture.”
“The synergies between Tramontina USA and Koenig & Vits are obvious and remarkable,” said Timothy Martinez, CEO of Koenig & Vits, Inc.
“Tramontina brings a mature and sophisticated manufacturing, marketing and distribution organization to Koenig & Vits, a highly automated cookware production facility and rolling mill.”
Tramontina USA, Inc., founded in 1986, is one of the largest corporate affiliates of Tramontina Group from Brazil. The U.S. firm currently operates out of four facilities, totaling more than 1.4 million square feet of offices, assembly and processing warehouses, and distribution center in Sugar Land, Texas, just southwest of Houston.
Koenig & Vits, Inc., is located in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Founded in 2003, the firm was formed by investors who purchased a cookware manufacturing facility from a Fortune 500 company that was abandoning American manufacturing capacity for overseas operations.