Co-op is win-win for small company

Jun 3, 2004

Growing its own engineers through co-op is helping Soroc Products to thrive, while the students get hands-on experience in a growing industry.

Westward expansion is going strong at Kettering University. The latest example is Soroc Products, a Kettering co-op employer, with a new facility in Byron Center near Grand Rapids, Mich. Soroc currently employs nine Kettering students at its Burton, Mich., facility, with plans to add another two to four students in Burton yet this year in addition to recruiting co-op students to help engineering efforts at its Grand Rapids plant.

Soroc Products is a thermoforming company that produces fender liners for automakers including Toyota and General Motors, custom returnable thermoform dunnage for the auto industry and recycles plastic.

President and CEO Jim Fitzell, was on campus June 1 to install the Soroc Products sign on the Corporate Partners wall in the Great Court of the Campus Center. "We had the business less that a year when we hired Jeff Kelso, our first Kettering co-op student," he said. "Thermoforming is a really a cottage industry, there are no engineering programs for it, so we decided we wanted to grow our own engineering base," he added.

Kelso, of Flint, was the only co-op student at the company for more than a year. Now with nine students at the Burton facility and room for more at the second site, Soroc is well on its way to "growing" an engineering base and developing a culture focused on the customer as a way to strengthen the company's market share.

To do this Soroc developed a 10-step process similar to the original General Motors program that is the foundation of Kettering's co-operative education philosophy. "In the 10 semesters they are with us, we have them work in a different quarter to introduce them to every part of the business," said Fitzell, "this serves two purposes, to see where their skill sets lie and give them a well-rounded sense of the industry."

The students appreciate the process saying they are given a lot of responsibility from the start of their co-op experience. "Soroc puts us in leadership positions to make decisions on our own," said Allen Vesterfelt, of Flint. "It's great experience and you learn the most when you have that level of responsibility."

"I've never done so many hands-on things," said Greg Goss, of Otisville, of his Soroc co-op experience. With only four full time engineers, students work in production, pattern design, accounting, production control and quality control.

Bob Nichols, vice president of Enrollment Management at Kettering, said for a company the size of Soroc, their level of co-op participation "is unbelievable. It puts a lot of confidence in the students," he said.

"If you're trying to put together a growing company, to grow a corporate culture, the best thing is to surround yourself with students," said Fitzell, "we feed off their energy and enthusiasm."

The students appear to thrive in the corporate culture at Soroc. "We not only have a work atmosphere, we have an after-work atmosphere at Soroc," said Goss. Fitzell elaborated on the corporate culture from the company's perspective, saying "If we're going to live to the tag line "The best place to learn and grow" then we ought to at least have fun doing it."

The original Soroc co-op student, Jeff Kelso, will graduate in June and stay with the company until January when he will join the Navy. Vesterfelt, who also graduates in June will become the fifth full time engineer at Soroc after graduation.

For more information on Soroc, visit www.sorocproducts.com.

Written by Dawn Hibbard
(810) 762-9865
dhibbard@kettering.edu