TABLER STATION, W.Va. — Luis Gutierrez has seen the enormous Procter & Gamble plant in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle sprout up before his eyes.
That’s a good thing for Gutierrez’s work duties.
He’s one of four construction managers on site — and Gutierrez is the one responsible for the overall progress on the plant. So he’s the guy who sees the forest where others might see trees.
Gutierrez counts himself as the first employee at the plant in Berkeley County, where ground was broken two years ago.
“I was actually the first P & G employee in West Virginia, and I’ll probably be the first one to depart,” he said Wednesday while taking part in a tour of the plant.
This is his last project. He intends to retire after this, settling in Martinsburg with his wife after a lifetime of traveling the world to guide Procter & Gamble’s construction progress.
“It is quite satisfying. It’s a very unique project. It started with a big blast, and it’s going to end with a big blast,” Gutierrez said.
What he can see now at his job site is a sprawling plant that is well on its way to taking shape.
Procter & Gamble company leaders provided some eye-opening numbers during an open house Wednesday morning for media, local economic developers and some employees.
Since groundbreaking in the fall of 2015, 1,300,000 hours have been devoted to construction with 1,000 construction workers on the job at all hours.
Workers have blasted or moved 6.5 million cubic yards of earth, building enormous hills that generally block the plant from public view and that are meant to drain into holding ponds.
The Procter & Gamble plant, which is said to be the international company’s biggest construction project to date, is located on 468 acres with every square inch to be used.
The 468 acres has been equated to 415 football fields. Of that, 58 acres are under roof, the equivalent of 53 football fields.
The first building to open, Building 100, is set to begin producing Bounce for sale sometime around this coming January.
There are about 265 full time employees working at Procter & Gamble right now, with about 300 expected by the end of the year. The ultimate goal is 700.
And all that costs a lot too. The full investment by Procter & Gamble at Tabler Station is about $500 million.
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) September 13, 2017
“You can see it’s quite a lot of progress going on on the site,” said Jeff LeRoy, a spokesman for Procter & Gamble.
Hiring for the plant continues, and it’s a relatively rigorous process because Procter & Gamble wants its employees to be creative thinkers and problem solvers.
“P & G manufacturing is highly skilled. It’s very automated,” LeRoy said. “These people we’re employing are running machines; they’re highly-skilled technicians. The days of an assembly line moving where you’re putting widgets on a machine, those are long over as far as P & G manufacturing.
“We’re looking for people with the right attitude and the right aptitude.”
Procter & Gamble has several written assessments for its hiring process, plus an overall assessment of culture fit to ensure employees assimilate with the team.
“It is several gates you go through, even before you go for an interview,” LeRoy said.
One of the employees for the plant, working there now for about a year, is technician Barry McDonald. He said he spent several years working for a heating and air conditioning company in Maryland. He gladly gave up his 85-mile, one way commute for employment just two miles from home at Procter & Gamble.
McDonald said he was hired so early on, there wasn’t even a building up yet. But he started training quickly to learn to operate Procter & Gamble’s equipment and machinery.
“They put a lot of investment in it, so we know what we’re doing when we show up here to operate,” McDonald said.
Much of that training took place off site — some of it even out of the country — so the tour on Wednesday was McDonald’s first up-close look around.
Another new employee is Pear Dhiantravan, a process engineer. She said the hiring process was lengthy, but she made it through.
“There were a lot of different factors that went in,” said Dhiantravan, describing online tests and phone interviews followed by on-site interviews.
“P & G is really great and diligent about training new hires,” she said. “I had zero manufacturing background. Everything I know about my line, about taking care of equipment and running it I learned from P & G.
“I’ve learned so much over the past year. Now if there’s a problem on the line, if there’s anything, I love going out there, figuring out how to solve it.”
The veteran is Gutierrez, who has traveled over the years for P & G to Mexico City, Brazil, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Cincinnati, China and now Martinsburg.
Berkeley County is where he plans to remain after his retirement.
“We’re very much enjoying Martinsburg and the overall West Virginia,” Gutierrez said. “We’re planning on staying here in Martinsburg. We like it here, we like our community, we like our neighbors, we like our neighborhood, we like our community, our house We felt so welcomed here that we decided to stay here.”