A large-scale expansion project supported in part by Iowa Economic Development Assistance (IEDA) was toured by Iowa Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg Monday morning.
While XL Specialized Trailers has already broken ground and began prepping the site, universally experienced delays in the supply chain have been a factor, but a portion of the material needed for the steel building actually arrived just hours before Gregg.
Despite the delays, the company has announced it is still expecting construction to be completed on the $6-7 million project by the end of 2021.
XL Specialized Trailers’ project will increase production capacity by over 30% while adding roughly 55,000 additional square feet to the north side of its current manufacturing footprint.
“Increasing our space and adding more team members positions us to serve our customers better than ever before,” said Stuart Sleper, president and CEO of XL Specialized Trailers. “We will be well-positioned for growth in the market and reduce lead times on our products.”
Cory Stafford, director of business systems, told Gregg 2020 has actually been one of their best years on record, despite the market indicating there being a 45% drop in the low-bed trailer industry that same year.
XL Specialized Trailers’ particular resplendency during the COVID-19 pandemic came in part thanks to a record sales year in 2019 driven by a need for customized trailers.
“We’re fortunate to have a diversified portfolio in the industries we serve with some sectors performing better than others,” Sleper said. “At the moment, we have a backlog and strong order activity. We also are fortunate to have the best dealership network in the industry and a loyal customer following. When the economy bounces back, we’ll be able to take advantage of our expansion in production capacity.”
With a team of engineers on staff, XL has the capability to design a trailer that has never been seen before, really giving credence to the term “specialized.”
Shannon Richardson, director of core engineering, said XL’s real wheelhouse is any trailer that falls outside of the norm — especially catering to very specific customized needs to accommodate incredibly large objects.
“That’s what sets us apart — being able to build to an end-user-specific need,” Richardson said. “We could build a trailer that is used for one load and one load only.”
It’s this aspect that makes XL a staple of the trailer industry at large, but not necessarily a name known by those by the general public, something Gregg said makes some Iowa companies unique.
“I always find that interesting and kind of fun to learn — that there are a lot of Iowa companies out there that are market leaders that everyday Iowans might not even know exist in their towns,” Gregg said. “We have a number of companies that have established that kind of reputation.”
But like many other companies, XL is hoping to become more of a widely known name because it is working hard to attract more employees.
Eric Branson, director of human resources, said hiring more welders is one of the company’s top priorities, and he has even been recruiting from out of state in an attempt to fill the dozen or so positions they have open.
One obstacle most companies in Delaware County face is limited housing, which makes it difficult for workers to relocate within a reasonable distance.
The middle-market housing catered toward those coming to join the workforce is in short supply, and when available, it goes quickly.
Gregg said the state still plans to continue offering the workforce housing tax credit, which is unique because it contains a carve-out in the funding to ensure a portion gets to the 88 least-populated Iowa counties, which includes Delaware County.
“Gov. (Kim) Reynolds pushed for and signed a bill that will increase that amount going forward,” he said. “That’s a competitive program but I know projects in this area have won in the past.”
Gregg said because of expansions like the one taking place at XL, he foresees the need for workforce housing only increasing, especially in areas like Manchester.