The Honor Culminates Manufacturing Month Events Hosted by AIS
AIS, a leading manufacturer of commercial office furniture and seating, recently was chosen “Manufacturer of the Year” for the central Massachusetts region comprised of Worcester and Middlesex counties. The company was selected for the honor by Massachusetts Sen. Dean Tran, who is a member of the state’s Joint Legislative Manufacturing Caucus.
The Caucus formed in 2014 with a focus on training for manufacturing employees, encouraging innovation by helping start-ups access resources, and expanding apprenticeship opportunities in key manufacturing sectors.
“Manufacturing is an economic driver in the Worcester Middlesex District and Affordable Interior Systems (AIS) is a true partner in the region,” Sen. Tran said.
AIS – with nearly 800 employees – is the largest employer and manufacturer in the city of Leominster, Massachusetts. The manufacturer of office furniture products sold throughout North America has annual sales of $200 million.
AIS leadership, including President & CEO Bruce Platzman, accepted the award on behalf of the company at the 3rd Annual Manufacturing Awards Ceremony, which was held Oct. 30 at the state capitol in Boston.
“AIS is honored to receive this important and prestigious award here in our home state,” Platzman said. “We’re a ‘MassMade’ company committed to our community and to Massachusetts. We believe in the importance of manufacturing – what it means for our local economy as well as what it means for the men and women who make their living in manufacturing.”
As part of its dedication to manufacturing, AIS hosted a number of activities related to “Manufacturing Month.” Each year during October, companies across the country celebrate the importance of manufacturing with events that honor manufacturing leaders, educate students about career opportunities in manufacturing, and build broader awareness of manufacturing’s positive impact on local and national economies.
AIS kicked off Manufacturing Month with an employee event on Oct. 5. At the event, Adolfo Ortiz received the Barney Platzman Award. Each year, this award – named for the CEO’s father – is given to one of AIS’s factory team members for their hard work and dedication.
On Oct. 10, AIS hosted North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce representatives and local business owners and political leaders as part of the chamber’s manufacturing tour. The following day, Oct. 11, Massachusetts’ Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and state Sen. Dean Tran toured the company’s headquarters and onsite manufacturing operations.
On Oct. 17, AIS hosted 40 students from Nashoba Regional High School for “A Day in the Life” mentor program. The program provides students with a unique opportunity to learn about careers in business and manufacturing, particularly those that companies like AIS can offer.
During the event, students had the opportunity to take part in “Business in Manufacturing” and “Production in Manufacturing” tracks. The Business in Manufacturing group learned about accounting, human resources, sales, marketing and purchasing. The Production in Manufacturing group learned about design and engineering, woodshop, manufacturing process management, logistics and quality. Along with a showroom and factory tour, students met with AIS’s leadership team.
“Talking to the people at AIS really helped me to understand the different parts of business that interested me the most,” Nashoba student Jane Bonazzoli said.
On Oct. 23, the company welcomed high-school students from the cities of Fitchburg and Leominster for a factory tour. AIS was one of several manufacturing-tour stops that day for the students.
“We hosted students who are in engineering and manufacturing programs in their schools,” said Courtney Pirosko, AIS vice president of sales for the New England and Midwest regions. “Our goal was to help raise awareness of the opportunities that careers in manufacturing can provide. As an employer, we benefited by connecting with students ready to enter the workforce and with educators who can help maintain those connections.”
North Central Massachusetts is home to a large, dynamic manufacturing cluster that employs roughly one-fourth of the workforce. But, as in many parts of the country, manufacturing here has been stigmatized as low-paying and monotonous, which has led to workforce constrictions as the experienced but aging individuals currently employed in manufacturing move toward retirement.
“By introducing students firsthand to what manufacturing really entails through partnerships with companies such as AIS, we hope to break this stigma and develop a pipeline of trained candidates who can step in and replace retiring workers,” said Christopher McDermott, public affairs manager for the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce.
A number of the events hosted by AIS were part of national Manufacturing Day celebrations.
“We are always excited when we have the opportunity to mentor students and give them a peek into our business and the opportunities that we provide,” Platzman said. “There are so many career possibilities within the manufacturing industry that today’s students are often not aware of. We’re proud to partner with local schools to provide students with information about these opportunities.”
A Manufacturing Legacy that’s Grown in Massachusetts
AIS started in downtown Boston in 1989, expanding through the years into facilities in Hudson and Clinton until the company had about 600 employees in six locations throughout the region. Platzman knew he needed to unify his people in one spot, and he wanted to stay in Massachusetts. So when a vacant 600,000 square-foot facility in Leominster appeared on his radar a few years ago, he seized the opportunity to transform the space into AIS’s headquarters, offices and a factory.
By April 2017, the move into the renovated facility was complete. In relocating to Leominster, AIS kept 600 manufacturing jobs in the state and has since added 175 new jobs. AIS has helped to cut the unemployment rate in this area, from over 10 percent to under 5 percent in three years.
AIS has been awarded “Manufacturer of the Year” from the Office Furniture Dealers Alliance eight times since 2008.
Manufacturing is 10.1 percent of Massachusetts’ total economic output and comprises 7.8 percent of the Commonwealth’s workforce (about 250,000 people in the state work in manufacturing), according to MassDevelopment.
“AIS is proof that careers in low-tech manufacturing are possible and sustainable in a state known more for high-tech manufacturing – we’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Platzman said. “We’re investing millions of dollars in equipment and machinery and offering opportunities to people who want to pursue manufacturing careers.”
Earlier this year, Massachusetts’ Senate passed a bill creating the “MassMade” program, administered by the state’s Office of Business Development, which will identify and promote business entities that are headquartered and produce consumer products in Massachusetts.
I’m a strong supporter of ‘MassMade’ – we have an obligation to support our local economy and to build the Massachusetts brand,” Platzman said.