Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Lyons Industries boosts college tuition assistance benefit

06/06/2019 - 9am
Lance Lyons

Lyons Industries of Dowagiac recently increased the college tuition benefit for employees who want to brush up their skills. The company now reimburses up to $1,500 per calendar year for educational courses to all regular, full-time employees after 90 days of continuous service. Eligible expenses include tuition, books and registration fees.

Many big companies provide college tuition assistance because such programs yield a more productive workforce. Lower turnover saves employers substantial costs hiring replacements, which is becoming more important for businesses of all sizes. “I’m doing it as an incentive to bring people in to work,” President Lance Lyons said. “Unemployment’s incredibly low because everybody who can work is, so what can we offer to be the employer of choice?”

Lyons Industries employs 130 people in a 125,000-square-foot facility on M-62 West that caters to the remodeling market.

“As the world becomes more technologically advanced,” Lyons continued, “we’re realizing we need to advance to keep up — not only with our customers, but our employees.

“What was acceptable for customer service, quality and on-time shipments a few years ago isn’t acceptable today,” Lyons said. “We’ve also noticed a change in our people. They are better educated and can process more information faster than previous generations. We’re upgrading our work environment with more automation and information to help our people be more productive and satisfied with their job.

“Our business will only be successful if our people are successful. That means much better pay than minimum wage and better benefits, including education,” he said. “We know how important education is and want to help provide a path to it. It’s the right thing to do for our people and our business.”

“We want to make sure we treat people very, very well with great benefits and profit-sharing. We offer a $1,000 referral bonus. In June 2016 we brought in a ‘success coach’ through Kinexus. One day a week for four hours an outside person is available to consult on any problem in your personal life — transportation, food, housing, relationship, financial, child care — that is a barrier to employment attendance. Kinexus partners with the Department of Health and Human Services, which can provide lots of assistance.”

Fewer births coupled with an aging workforce has led to the dearth of available labor Lyons is trying to counter.

U.S. births fell to a 32-year low in 2018, the fourth consecutive year of decline, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported May 15. The number of Americans retiring daily has nearly doubled since 2000. Roughly 10,000 people turn 65 each day. By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65, according to the Census Bureau.

Lance 21 years ago joined the company his father Don and grandfather Dale founded in 1968. They developed a device that replaced the pipe venting plumbing gases through mobile home roofs. Don recognized the need to develop other products to sustain growth, he told SMC’s Entrepreneur Academy last July.

In the late ’70s, Lyons bought its first vacuum former and started producing glue-up tub wall surrounds. Today, four robots spray on Fiberglass for strength in production of more than 1,000 bathtubs and showers a day.

Southwestern Michigan College in 1985 named the Dale A. Lyons Building in recognition of his service as Board of Trustees vice chairman. Don is Dowagiac’s mayor and a former school board member.