Case Studies Morgan Olson, LLC
Morgan Olson, LLC Steps into Southern Virginia
A Rich Heritage and Rapid Growth Trajectory
Headquartered in Sturgis, Michigan, Morgan Olson’s legacy of building iconic step vans began in 1946 with the production of the first “all-aluminum” step van. Today, Morgan Olson’s products are used to deliver online purchases to homes and businesses throughout North America. In 2003, Morgan Olson was purchased by J.B. Poindexter & Co., Inc. (JBPCO), a diversified manufacturing company with more than 6,200 employees headquartered in Houston, Texas.
Just over 10 years ago, Morgan Olson’s Michigan facility was manufacturing 100% of the company’s step van orders. As the preferred walk-in step van body company with plants at full capacity, Morgan Olson needed to grow to meet customer needs and protect the work-life balance of team members. In 2019, the company focused its site selection on Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia for this major project representing the company’s fourth expansion in six years.
The Virginia Solution
The Turning Point
Morgan Olson was seriously considering a location in Virginia, but the specific site under review ultimately did not meet the company’s requirements for a project of its size. Just as Morgan Olson leadership was turning its attention back to competing states, Virginia officials learned that IKEA planned to shut down its 925,000-square-foot facility in Danville-Pittsylvania County—the company’s only manufacturing site in the U.S.—resulting in the loss of approximately 300 jobs. This closure would further devastate a region that was hard hit by the loss of textile manufacturing and had made great strides to rebound economically. A few phone calls were made, and Morgan Olson was flown by state plane to Danville-Pittsylvania County to tour the site. Wheels were put in motion in record time, and the company decided the IKEA plant could be the perfect fit for its expansion.
A Transformational Investment
In October 2019, North America’s leading manufacturer of all-aluminum walk-in step vans announced plans to invest $57.8 million to establish an assembly operation in the former IKEA plant in Danville-Pittsylvania County, creating over 700 new jobs in Southern Virginia. The deal represented a groundbreaking win for Danville-Pittsylvania County and the Commonwealth, and was a collaborative effort that included numerous state, regional, and local partners. Morgan Olson not only ensured the soon-to-be vacant IKEA plant would remain in productive use, the company also substantially increased the number of employees at the operation to become the largest private employer in Danville-Pittsylvania County.
Morgan Olson took ownership of the building in March 2020 and within four months, transformed the previous IKEA manufacturing plant into a 925,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art automotive manufacturing facility that became operational in early 2021.
Innovative Workforce Solutions
Out of the gate, Virginia demonstrated its commitment to ensure Morgan Olson’s long-term success in Virginia. The company received custom support to hire and train 703 employees from the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a world-class workforce initiative created by VEDP in collaboration with the Virginia Community College System, with funding support from the Governor’s administration and the Virginia General Assembly. Launched in 2019, the program accelerates new facility start-ups through direct delivery of recruitment and training services that are fully customized to a company’s unique products, processes, equipment, standards, and culture. All program services are provided at no cost to qualified new and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation.
Morgan Olson began interviewing former IKEA employees for professional staff positions just after the announcement in November 2019. Around the same time, a team of expert instructional designers from the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program and Danville Community College traveled to Morgan Olson’s plant in Loudon, Tennessee to gain an understanding of the processes, best practices, and training needs for the new Virginia operation. The team returned in early 2020 to gather more detailed information and capture video footage of workers performing assembly tasks. This film is utilized in process training classes that provide new hires with a clear understanding of the sequence, purpose, tools, materials, components, hazards, and quality considerations in each step of the company’s manufacturing process, as well as Morgan Olson’s unique process terminology.
The Virginia Talent Accelerator Program support ranged from training operators on assembly procedures to creating what is known as Morgan Olson’s Leadership Academy, an immersive program tackling topics such as emotional intelligence, A3 thinking, conflict resolution, and managing across generations. The Program enabled Morgan Olson to hire 700 people in about half the originally planned time.
A New Legacy
Southern Virginia boasts a rich legacy of manufacturing and offers world-class training institutions that partner with the company to create specific programs to prepare a workforce pipeline for the future. Morgan Olson’s investment has strengthened this 21st-century industry in the region and the Commonwealth for many years to come.