Harken to build new HQ in Pewaukee

Sailboat hardware and accessories manufacturer Harken Inc. plans to build a new, 175,000-square-foot corporate headquarters facility at N15 W24887 Bluemound Road in the city of Pewaukee. Construction is expected to begin in July, said Harken co-owner and founder Peter Harken.

The 28-acre site for the new Harken headquarters is mostly farmland and is located on the west side of Bluemound Road, north of I-94. Only 15 acres of the site is suitable for building, the rest is wetland. The development will include space for future expansion.

The company is out of room at his current headquarters, a 65,000-square-foot three-building complex at 1251 E. Wisconsin Ave., Pewaukee, and at a 65,000-square-foot facility it leases in Waukesha.

“We are just hammered here in our present facility,” Harken said. “We just need the room terribly.”

The new headquarters will have 145,000 square feet of space on the ground level. Half of that will be for manufacturing and the other half for assembly, shipping and warehousing. The second level of the new headquarters building will have 30,000 square feet of office space.

“We’ve designed it for the lean manufacturing flow,” Harken said. “Raw material comes in one end and the finished product comes on the other end.”

The company’s current local operations in four different buildings are extremely inefficient, he said.

“You just can’t do lean manufacturing with that kind of an operation,” Harken said. “We need to get everything under one roof.”

Harken planned to build the new headquarters in 2008, but put off the project during the Great Recession.

“We were ready to put the shovel in the ground,” Harken said. “When the financial markets crashed in October of 2008, we pulled it.”

Recessions are particularly tough for Harken because its products are for discretionary expenditures.

“Nobody needs a boat,” Harken said.

However, the company’s business has improved as the economy has recovered. Last year the company acquired Accurate Products in Waukesha, which has allowed it to diversify its business by doing job shop manufacturing and assembly work.

“Business has come back quite strong,” Harken said. “Things are going good. A lot of business has come back.”

Harken said his company demonstrates that American manufacturing is alive and well. The company has won some contracts for work that was previously done in Asia. China is losing some manufacturing work because of problems with quality, logistics and rising costs, he said.

“We are getting more and more companies coming to us requesting to do machining for them because of the crap that is coming back from China,” Harken said. “We can do it here in America, but we have to change. You can’t do it the same old way. We have to do short runs, be quick, fast, nimble, move tools in and out of the machines quickly.”

The company plans to hire more machinists, but skilled machinists are hard to find because so many younger workers are not adequately trained.

“It’s hard to find capable machinists,” he said. “None of the young guys are going into it.”

In a sign that the region’s manufacturing sectors is in full recover mode, Harken has struggled to find other manufacturers do work that it cannot do.

“We’re working 50 hours a week with two shifts,” Harken said. “We tried to send out overflow that we couldn’t do. But the machine shops are all full up.”

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