Quality workers key to French manufacturer Schneider Electric 4th El Paso factory

Annette Clayton, an executive for French global manufacturer Schneider Electric, came to El Paso in 2012 to visit the company’s tiny electric products factory and didn’t like what she saw.

She found a substandard facility that was the subservient “little brother” of a larger factory in South Carolina, she said.

But she also saw “massive amounts of potential,” most especially in the quality, loyal El Paso workforce, she said.

That convinced her and other officials that El Paso “is a place where we can really make some investments,” she said.

Clayton, then Schneider’s chief supply chain officer, and other company officials “committed at that moment that we would transform El Paso into a world-class, high-quality, lean manufacturing operation,” she said.

“And fast forward a dozen years, and we did exactly that,” Clayton said at a Thursday ceremony celebrating the company’s fourth El Paso factory, which opened several months ago, making Schneider’s sprawling West El Paso complex its largest manufacturing center in the United States. It has 16 other factories in the U.S.

The new 160,000 square-foot factory, which Schneider officials said would cost $20 million when construction started in early 2022, will employ about 400 people by the end of 2023, bringing the company’s total El Paso workforce to about 1,500 employees.

Jobs range from product assemblers to engineers. The company does not disclose wages, a spokesman said.

Clayton, now chief executive officer of Schneider’s North America operations, asked dozens of mostly supervisory employees at Thursday’s ceremony inside the new factory to give themselves a round of applause for their accomplishments, which they did.

Clayton is based in Austin and frequently commutes to Schneider’s U.S. headquarters in Boston. Its global headquarters is in the Paris area.

Texas governor, mayor praise expansion

Texas Gov. Greg Abbot and El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser praised the company for further expanding in El Paso.

“Schneider is part of the Texas economic juggernaut,” Abbott said at the ceremony.

Schneider is to get up to $1.5 million in tax rebates from the city, and almost $276,000 in tax rebates and a training grant from the county for the new factory if it fulfills requirements.

Leeser said at the ceremony that such incentives are needed for the city to be “good partners” with companies that want to expand.

Eaton follows Schneider’s El Paso path

The El Paso plants make various electrical equipment, including switchboards, panelboards and switchgear that go into data centers, semiconductor facilities, factories and other commercial buildings across the country. Schneider also makes electrical products for homes, hospitals and sewage facilities at plants located elsewhere.

Schneider’s celebration came only two days after Eaton Corp., an Ireland-based company that manufactures similar electrical products, announced it would add a second El Paso electrical products factory in 2024 and hire about 600 more people. It currently employs about 300 people in El Paso.

“Eaton also has had success in El Paso, and they clearly followed us here,” Clayton said after the ceremony.

“That’s what happens when you find great places to employ people; other people (companies) come. And that’s great for our industry,” she said.

Electrical products business is booming

Schneider’s four factories stretch along Northwestern Drive in the Northwest Corporate Center industrial park in West El Paso. Its next-door neighbors include Eaton’s El Paso factory and the West Towne Marketplace shopping center.

The electrical products manufacturing business has been booming in recent years.

Schneider had worldwide revenue of $36 billion in 2022, including more than $9.5 billion in North America.

Robert Main, 50, who manages Schneider’s warehouse operations in El Paso, said the company’s growth has allowed many employees, including himself, to move to higher positions inside and outside this area.

“It’s great to see the opportunities given to people,” said Main, who grew up in El Paso and has a degree from the University of Texas at El Paso. He’s worked for Schneider for 14 years.

Schneider officials praise workers

Chris Lee, also 50, who started as an assembler at a Schneider plant in South Carolina 23 years ago, moved to El Paso in 2020 to become manager of one of the El Paso factories.

El Paso is a great place for manufacturing in part because of skilled people coming out of UTEP, New Mexico State University and Western Technical College, he said.

“I have not had a problem getting good people in the door, showing them what needs to be done, and watching them excel,” Lee said.

Main and Lee enthusiastically led a tour of the new factory. Lee outlined the manufacturing steps, which includes a lot of manual wiring and other manual assembly.

Clayton said her initial, good impressions of El Paso’s workforce have been borne out through the years.

“Not only have they been a very loyal workforce, but a workforce that wants to continue to upscale, continue to train themselves; and we have a lot of programs that allow people to do that,” Clayton said.

“And frankly it’s one of the places we’ve had the most success in retaining top-talented people,” she said.

El Paso job information is available on Schneider’s website: se.com/us/en/about-us/careers/overview.jsp