As the U.S. economy thaws after COVID-19 forced many businesses to shutter earlier this year, a LaFayette range and oven manufacturer is hiring to keep pace with increased demand for its products.

“Our industry is booming,” said Lois Crandall, plant manager at Roper Corp., a subsidiary of GE Appliances, a Haier company. “We cannot hire enough people right now.”

Crandall and her staff Oct. 20 escorted Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, along with state and local officials, on a tour of the facility. She explained that the plant has more than 2,000 employees and is the largest of GE’s nine U.S. plants.

Crandall touted the brand’s popularity in America, explaining that 50% of U.S. homes have a GE appliance.

The plant is behind in production by tens of thousands of units; demand has increased because people have been staying home during the pandemic and using their appliances more, she said.

Sales in products have increased through retail partners, like Home Depot and Lowes, and for construction for homes and apartments, she stated.

Duncan noted the pandemic has also disrupted the supply chain.

Earlier this year the plant closed for COVID-19 for cleaning and modifications for social distancing, and the plant acquired temperature scanning equipment that is faster than hand-held scanners. Where social distancing was not practicable, the plant implemented other measures to provide additional protection, including Plexiglass dividers.

Roper installed barriers so that the plant would not have to shutter, state Sen. Jeff Mullis of Chickamauga pointed out. Mullis represents Senate District 53, which includes Catoosa, Dade, and Walker counties and portions of Chattooga County.

The tour included demonstrating features, such as WiFi and Alexa connectivity to turn appliances on and off and in-oven, live-streaming cameras to check on the food as it cooks without hovering at the appliance.

Fast induction cooking brings water to boil within 60 seconds. Induction cooking requires special cookware to create an electromagnetic field, making the cookware hot while the surface is cool to the touch.

The plant also tracks productivity on the two lines so employees can see areas where they can improve efficiency, operations manager Conner Rowlader said.

Duncan said he is encouraged to see an industry so busy, is proud of the work at Roper and is grateful for a company like this and the innovation it is bringing forward. Employees are happy to have a job and to work at a company like Roper.

Employees are dedicated to their work, and a number of employees have worked in their plants for their entire careers, according to Crandall.

Georgia is a great place to run a business and to raise a family, Duncan said.

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s website, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/bae99d8e3be14e0b977f2c8b93a5291b, states the initiative’s goal is to make Georgia the technology capital of the East Coast. A public-private partnership kicked off in 2020 under Duncan’s leadership, it includes industry clusters from agriculture and manufacturing to technology, from incubators and entrepreneurial degree programs to venture capital-backed startups, and includes more than 100 Georgians to make recommendations to support the innovation.

Catherine Edgemon is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga., and the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga.

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