Molding Nebraska’s workforce: Royal Engineered Composites growing talent within a global industry

Minden aerospace business chosen as the Nebraska Manufacturing Advisory Council’s latest spotlight company

Whether they’re designing parts for one of the world’s fastest-selling jet airliner families or manufacturing equipment for Boeing’s most fuel-efficient airplane, Nebraska manufacturers are staking a claim in their own industry from the heart of central Nebraska. It’s just one unique aspect of Royal Engineered Composites’ mission to grow the international aerospace field – and their talented pool of employees.

The Minden business is the Nebraska Manufacturing Advisory Council’s latest spotlight company. For more than 50 years, Royal’s team has specialized in mold-making and technical support for aerospace and defense companies around the world. The company provides services in print work, manufacturing composite materials by design, and prototyping for global clientele such as Airbus, Boeing, General Electric and Lockheed Martin.

The company originated as a plastic products manufacturer in 1954. A chance meeting between Royal’s founder and engineers from Missouri-based McDonnell Aircraft led to a contract to construct parts for the company. By 1958, Royal had shifted its manufacturing focus to composites. Nearly 10 percent of the company’s business is comprised of designing original composites; 90 percent of Royal’s clientele request “print work,” which requires the construction of two-wing molds, fixtures and model parts. After parts are cured, assembled and painted, the team begins a series of quality inspections to adhere to each company’s specific equipment regulations.

Royal Engineered Composites’ president, Dave Arnold, says technical regulations can vary drastically from company to company and are an important and final step in Royal’s manufacturing process. They are also a glaring example of the company’s continued efforts to offer diversified services within a competitive industry.

“Companies we work for can, at times, provide up to 20 different specifications for only one part. The size of each part depends on our clientele; some parts are as large as a banquet table, and others are small enough to hold in your hand.”

Royal’s work within the design-specific aerospace field requires skilled employees who are often hired with an engineering background or have experience within other highly-regulated industries. Once new employees complete the company’s two-month job training program in composites building, they begin more specific training through job mentorships to manufacture additional products, which can take anywhere from one to two years. Royal’s 165 employees consist of 12 engineers, 20 quality inspectors and more than 100 workers with alternative roles in manufacturing. Employees are constantly molded to fit the company’s standards: to grow business, manufacture quality products, and encourage employee longevity.

Arnold’s 19 years as a member of Royal’s workforce offer insight into the company’s ability to retain talent within the company. In less than two decades, he’s worked as an engineering manager and an operations manager, and assumed the role of company president in 2014. You could say the Falls City native and UNL graduate found employment at the company using the “Nebraska way” – through word of mouth, strong intrastate connections, and by tapping into an ongoing jobs search engine through the State of Nebraska.

“Back in 1997, Royal had posted an opening on the Nebraska Department of Labor’s website. Checking that site allowed me to learn more about this small, interesting company which was doing cool things in aviation print work and design,” Arnold said. “Access to that resource began a process that led to many opportunities at Royal over the years.”

The Department of Labor’s website has currently posted more than 3,000 open manufacturing positions, which continues to be an important tool for job-seekers in Nebraska’s #2 industry. (Source: NEworks). In the first quarter of 2016, manufacturing in NE contributed to $12.1 billion in GDP (Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis; Nebraska Workforce Trends, November edition, 2016). Arnold says the company learns about home-grown talent through the internet, other manufacturers, and connections within the Minden community. Nearly 50% of Royal’s employees live in Minden; others commute from nearby cities and villages like Kearney, Holdrege, Hastings and Franklin.

Royal continues its commitment to grow additional employment connections through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development’s Intern Nebraska program. Since 2013, the company has received $36,000 in grants to fill eight internship positions in Royal’s engineering, computer aid design, computer numerical control and supply chain management departments. Efforts to build companies’ relationships with young Nebraskans is one component of the agency’s long-term goal to bolster the state’s workforce pipeline. In 2013, Royal permanently hired one of its interns from Central Community College. Since then, the company has hired three interns for full-time employment. Royal also has a full-time agreement in place with another student, who will complete a second summer internship in 2017.

“We appreciate being part of the process in getting great, young kids involved in manufacturing,” Arnold said. “Our continued participation in this program has helped us connect with talented students at Central Community College, and we are looking at strengthening ties with other Nebraska schools as well.”

Members of Royal’s management team are also investing in the future of the company – one employee at a time. Since 2008, part-owner Phillip Gill has worked with Arnold and his team to implement a plan to sell stock to company employees. The program takes the place of a 401K plan and distributes stock to employees each year. Unlike a standard 401K, Royal’s program does not have an employee pay-in requirement.

Arnold says it’s all part of the owner’s long-term philosophy to help Royal continue to grow and succeed in Minden. “Mr. Gill didn’t want to sell Royal to a big company, but rather, keep the company in Minden and allow the employees to be in charge of their own destiny.”

For more information, contact Whitney Bumgarner, Manufacturing Cluster Coordinator, Nebraska Department of Economic Development, 402-471-6281, whitney.bumgarner@nebraska.gov.

CONTACT Kate Ellingson at 800-426-6505, 402-471-3749 or kate.ellingson@nebraska.gov.