Shaw Industries, the largest employer in Bartow County, is growing again. Three years after opening the huge Plant T1 in Adairsville, earthwork is underway for a 500,000-square-foot addition to the plant.

Nolan Howell, director of International Soft Services at Shaw Industries, explained to Adairsville community business leaders three days ago that the expansion could double the employment numbers at the plant to more than 600 over the next three years. Howell also explained that Shaw has made a huge investment in the creation of the next-generation workforce.

“Shaw sees this investment in people as important as any we make in new equipment or technology. We partner with several organizations that are doing the work on the ground to help people develop job skills, technological expertise and leadership strengths,” said Brian Cooksey, director of workforce development for Shaw Industries. “Depending on the specific needs of each organization, we provide financial, learning and development expertise and — in many cases — extensive volunteer support.”

“We do spend a lot of time in our local schools and communities pushing various educational programs. We focus a lot on STEM-related activities,” Howell said. “It was in 2013 our business partnership with education resulted in our being named the first ever Business Partner of the Year.”

Much of that partnership is now focused on an innovative Great Promise Partnership which actually partners plants with area high schools and identifies young workers who are at least 16 years of age to come work in their plants and get an idea of what is available in a modern manufacturing environment.

Howell recalled coming back to the U.S. after spending several years at a Shaw facility in China and being assigned to the new Plant 15 on U.S. 411 between Cartersville and Rome.

“I looked out the window and saw a Bluebird school bus pull up in front of the plant. I saw about six or seven obviously school-aged children with backpacks and book bags get off the bus and walk in the front door of the plant,” Howell said. “I scratched my head and asked what in the world? Are we supposed to be doing that?” That was his introduction to the Great Promise Partnership.

The company partners with certain students in certain situations, not exactly a work-release program, but they are still in school and on a proper trajectory for graduation.

“We let them come in and work in our factory a certain number of hours per day. It’s a paid position, actually paid quite well, and we try to balance work and school and encourage these kids to see where their future can take them,” Howell said. He explained that the feedback from the school system has been very positive.

Howell also explained that the company has participated in manufacturing day programs in local schools where they talk about the type of jobs and roles that are available in the Shaw facilities.

“We talk about the kinds of things that we look for in candidates for those jobs and what they can do to make themselves better prepared,” Howell said.

The majority of Shaw’s Great Promise Partnership students are in Bartow County, approximately two dozen, and they are representative of each of the high schools in the county, according to Ellen Cummings in the Shaw public relations office. The company also sponsors job fairs and offers summer externships for teachers.

“Shaw leaders serve as guest speakers and we provide funding for laboratories and projects with the college and career academies and other high school programs,” Cooksey said. Shaw leaders also coached and mentored three Shaw-sponsored FIRST Robotics teams that qualified for the state robotics championships.

Shaw will be sponsoring the state championship tournament for the FIRST Robotics program this coming April in Emerson.

For students pursuing training beyond high school, Shaw provides and supports mechanical, electrical and maintenance skills training — including classroom teaching, computer-based learning and lab instruction at Georgia Northwestern Technical College.

Howell, who is based at Plant T1 in Adairsville, said when that plant was opened, it encompassed 670,000 square feet and was built with the idea of being able produce upwards of 10 million square yards of commercial carpet tile in a year.

“When we built that we planned for expansion,” Howell said. The expansion was originally envisioned as something that might add another 300,000 square feet, but in just two-and-a-half years, growth of the business led the company to start work on a 500,000-square-foot addition.

“So it’s going to be about 1.175 million square feet under one roof. It is a massive, massive, beautiful building,” Howell said.

The expansion will provide additional manufacturing space as well as 20-25 million pounds of yarn storage space for material used by several of the plants across the region.

“Warehouse space in Northwest Georgia is just gone. There are a lot of other businesses that are doing well, not just Shaw,” Howell said. “We are going to consolidate a lot of yarn that we’ve had stored in other places. That’s why we doubled down on expansion at the Bartow County site.”

Howell said the Adairsville plant currently has 320 employees. “During the next three years we’re probably going to double that,” Howell said. He broke down the workforce to illustrate that it is a truly regional employer. Cartersville zip codes send 69 employees to the Adairsville plant, 63 from Adairsville, 48 from Rome and 42 from Calhoun. The rest are spread out across the region.