North of Crystal Falls in the middle of the wilderness are stacked two and a half million board feet of lumber. What is it used for? Basketball floors for the NBA and NCAA. It makes sense, lots of trees mean lots of wood. It all comes here where 125 workers begin the process of making the lumber into beautiful, pristine and finished floors.
Plant manager Conrad Stromberg has worked for the company 25 years. "We're not automated to any degree, we still manufacture flooring the way they did it 40 or 50 years ago", he says. There are efforts to minimize waste and keep quality high, and for good reason. Floors for the NCAA Final Four are made here, and they have been for decades. They couldn't show us this year's floor, under construction for the tournament in Houston, but it was there and will eventually be shipped before the 2011 Final Four in April.
"They send personel from this facility to help install that floor and make sure that is does get done right", says "Fuzzy" Franz, the lead builder for portable floors like the ones that are shipped to the Final Four tournaments like 2010 in Indianapolis, and 2009 in the Motor City, where MSU's semi-final victory over U. Conn was played on a Connor Floor at Ford Field. Stromberg showed us a dramatic ariel photo of the floor being trucked over the Mackinac Bridge on it's way to Ford Field.
The Final Four is just the beginning. Connor permanent floors can be found in the arenas of over 100 colleges and universities, including Central Michigan's new McGuirk Area. Twelve NBA teams, over 1/3 of the league, have Connor floors in their home courts. That includes the Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriars, Philidephia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks among others. "We consider ourselves the leader in the industry," said Stromberg.
With all of this credibility, it seemed that there was something missing. I asked him, "why now U of M or Michigan State? Or the Detroit Pistons." "We'd love to have those floors," was his immediate response. In fact, they have their eyes on the Breslin Center. "Michigan State has an older floor," Stromberg indicated, "so maybe the next floor might be a Connor Sports floor".
More Connor floors can be found here in Mid-Michigan, in including in the beautiful new gym at Bendle High School, a frequent host of district tournaments. Other notable Connor floors in these parts include Alma College, Genesys Athletic Club, Linden Elementary, Pinconning High School and in the metro Detroit area at Detroit Country Day, Waterford School District, South Haven Elementary and Clintondale High School. There is a much larger list of Connor Floors across Michigan.
These floors aren't just immaculate, though, they're carefully engineered for safety and athlete comfort. "Its good on the athletes its good on their joints and easy when it comes to injury," boasts Stromberg. It is a quality he says reflects the work ethic of the employees here, and a reason the company has not gone to more automation to replace employees. "We're proud of the fact that we haven't had to automate the way other companies have", he says.
The pride in the U.P. work force we saw at the two previous stops on this trip was showing through again.
"Great group of people take pride in their work, we can say the floor is handcrafted in a way, they do a great job. I wouldn't trade 'em for any work force in the country", says Stromberg.