Dowagiac Manufacturer Steps Up College Tuition Benefits for Loyal Workforce

Some companies continually struggle to acquire and retain a quality workforce, while some work continually to assure that the people already on board are well-cared for and fairly compensated for a job well done.

In the case of Lyons Industries of Dowagiac, they choose to be the latter. Working diligently to maintain the team that they have, and one of the ways they are stepping up is through an increased college tuition benefit, even if it's just to brush up on their employee's skill sets.

Lyons, headquartered along M-62 West just outside of Dowagiac, recently stepped up their college tuition benefits for employees, now reimbursing up to $1,500 per calendar year for educational courses. That's a direct benefit for all regular, full-time employees following 90-days of continuous service. The eligible expenses covered under the plan include tuition, books and registration fees.

Many big companies provide college tuition assistance because such programs yield a more productive workforce. Lower turnover saves employers the substantial costs of hiring replacements, and that's becoming more important for businesses of all sizes.  Lyons Industries President Lance Lyons says, “I’m doing it as an incentive to bring people in to work,” as he notes, “Unemployment’s incredibly low because everybody who can work is, so what can we offer to be the employer of choice?”

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Lyons Industries has a substantive workforce of some 130 people at their 125,000-square-foot facility on M-62 West catering largely to the home remodeling market.

Lyons says, “As the world becomes more technologically advanced, we’re realizing we need to advance to keep up — not only with our customers, but our employees." He points out, “What was acceptable for customer service, quality and on-time shipments a few years ago isn’t acceptable today,” and suggests, “We’ve also noticed a change in our people. They are better educated and can process more information faster than previous generations. We’re upgrading our work environment with more automation and information to help our people be more productive and satisfied with their job."

Lyons recognizes the direct benefits of such incentives, telling us, “Our business will only be successful if our people are successful. That means much better pay than minimum wage and better benefits, including education,” adding, "We know how important education is and want to help provide a path to it. It’s the right thing to do for our people and our business.”

Fewer births coupled with an aging workforce has led to the dearth of available labor Lyons is trying to counter.

Reality is, U.S. births fell to a 32-year low in 2018, the fourth consecutive year of decline, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on May 15th. The number of Americans retiring daily has nearly doubled since 2000. Roughly 10,000 people turn 65 every day. By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65, according to the Census Bureau.

Lyons says, “We want to make sure we treat people very, very well with great benefits and profit-sharing. We offer a $1,000 referral bonus. In June 2016 we brought in a ‘success coach’ through Kinexus. One day a week for four hours an outside person is available to consult on any problem in your personal life — things like transportation, food, housing, relationship, financial, child care — that is a barrier to employment attendance. Kinexus partners with the Department of Health and Human Services, which can provide lots of assistance.”

It was 21 years ago that Lance joined the company that his father Don and grandfather Dale founded in 1968. They developed a device that replaced the pipe venting plumbing gases through mobile home roofs. Last July, Don told SMC's Entrepreneur Academy that he recognized the need to develop other products in order to sustain growth.

In the late ’70s, Lyons bought its first vacuum former and started producing glue-up tub wall surrounds. Today, four robots spray on Fiberglass for strength in production of more than 1,000 bathtubs and showers every day from the factory in Dowagiac.

Southwestern Michigan College in 1985 named the Dale A. Lyons Building in recognition of his service as Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees there. Don, meanwhile, is Dowagiac’s mayor and a former school board member. Together, they're helping build a strong community through their workforce in Michigan's Great Southwest.