At about the same time Blendex was seeking HACCP certification, the events of September 11th alerted management to the urgency of plant security, an issue it has since taken several steps to address. "Every day we get letters from customers asking what we're doing," Pottinger says. And everyday, it seems, the company is doing something new. Some 25 cameras have been deployed throughout the facility to monitor employees, who now must use push-button codes in order to access certain areas of the processing plant and warehouse. Other points of entry have been completely eliminated. A chain link fence was erected around the facility's perimeter. Employees must now wear uniforms. And, yes, their backgrounds are checked before they are brought on board.
In many respects, Blendex remains an employee-driven enterprise. There was talk, for instance, of purchasing a palletizer, but end products are of such wildly differing size and shape that any given model could only accommodate a handful of them. Blendex employs some 100 workers, 20 of whom perform office work and 80 who work in the plant. The company runs two shifts of 40 workers each.
Like many processors, Pottinger says that attracting and retaining qualified labor, or unqualified labor for that matter, is a particular challenge. Unemployment in the Louisville area hovers at 4 percent, with UPS and some local auto plants providing stiff competition for plant labor. "It's easier to raise the price of autos to cover a wage increase than it is to raise the price of food," Pottinger says.
"Those who are hired are trained from the ground up , how to run a forklift, how to wear a uniform , you name it," he says. "We teach them everything they need to know."