KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — After more than 120 years, Continental Linen Services is ready to mark a new chapter. The longtime Kalamazoo business is set to hold a ribbon cutting on a new 11,000-square foot expansion that company owners believe will allow them to grow.
Co-owner Kurt Vander Meer told News 8 that the addition cost approximately $6 million, with $4.7 million set aside solely for upgrading equipment and machinery. While many manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation, Vander Meer says this upgrade will help the company bring in more business without sacrificing any jobs.
“We have not displaced any jobs at all. We’ve moved those people inside the company,” Vander Meer said. “We’re growing. We’re up 20-plus percent over the last year. We need bodies, and thankfully we’ve got good bodies. So, this wasn’t a reduction of headcount. This was more about getting us some capacity for growth.”
Construction work on the addition started in January. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held on Dec. 7. Vander Meer says the new equipment will help them run faster and more efficiently.
“The equipment that we brought in here is seriously high tech. When you can wash 280 pounds of laundry in two-and-a-half minutes, that’s a pretty big deal,” Vander Meer said.
It will also help CLS cut down on waste.
“We are great corporate citizens here,” Vander Meer declared. “We’re watching the environment, we’re watching water use, we’re watching wastewater discharge. We’re watching everything. We’re utilizing a lot of water and a lot of steam and things like that to be a good corporate citizen for Kalamazoo.”
The expansion was set to take place years ago but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were three weeks away from pulling the trigger. … And when COVID hit, we dropped in half. We were half the size immediately and we struggled with that for several months,” Vander Meer said. “Now, we’re booming here, and I sure wish we would’ve done this back then, but we didn’t. We got gun shy. We didn’t know what was going to happen.”
The expanded facility will help CLS bring in up to 50% more business. He says that translates to more profit, more jobs and more tax revenue.
“Right now, we’ve got around 245 people in the company, and about 180 of those are right here in Kalamazoo,” Vander Meer said.
CLS has roots in Kalamazoo dating back to 1899. The company was first founded as the Kalamazoo Laundry Company, using horse-drawn carriages to make deliveries. The company has been owned by three different families, last purchased in 1966 by Ted Vander Meer — Kurt’s father.
CLS now does business all across Michigan, including depots in Grand Rapids, Cadillac, Livonia, Saginaw and Alpena.