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The Australians are back and mean business

2013 - January 30. Article from Dyersville Commercial ( Front Page and website)

AUSTRALIA'S No.1 manufacturer of earthmoving equipment has gone global.

How does an Australian celebrate independence? By offering everyone wrestling gear.

At least that was the joke on Jan. 26 when Digga executives invited members of the community into its new 20 West Industrial park facility. During Australia Day — the Land Down Under’s version of the Fourth of July — Digga offered guests “singlets.” Some thought they were receiving one-piece spandex suits.

“In Australia, a singlet is a tank top,” said Suzie Wright, Digga’s CEO of global operations. Drawing up a new branch in rural America has seen its fair share of cultural barriers.

When Wright told people the company was “setting up stock,” they thought she meant a Wall Street account, instead of “taking inventory.” Other issues like dealing with a colder climate and America’s health care system (Australian health care is free) have required some more spelling out.

But if Wright is sure of one thing, it’s this: She means business when Digga-Dyersville begins operating next month.

“It’s not like we’ve propped up here and have no idea how people do business,” she said, adding the company supplies markets around the world.

She called the current phase in the Australian company’s Dyersville branch, “the calm before the storm.” Digga’s new 43,000 square foot facility is ready to hire its initial staff.

For Wright, it’s an exciting phase to be in after several months of minor setbacks and updates. The two biggest changes to Digga’s plans: the facility will begin operating roughly three months later than expected, and builders have added 8,400 square feet of space.

“We haven’t officially launched the company here yet because until the building was operational, we couldn’t serve the client base properly,” Wright said. “We would’ve liked to have been open in November, but everything’s been delayed. That’s why we’ve delayed hiring as well.”

When “the storm” hits, Digga will start by hiring six to eight high skilled workers. Along with management, this team will have a say in laying out the factory floor — totaling 38,000 square feet of space.

Digga will then hire on an “as needed” basis. The anticipated 35 employees break down to two managers, two engineers, 25 skilled workers, two sales representatives and four purchase/supply chain roles.

Wright placed an emphasis on communication and teamwork in looking for workers.

“The difficulty with the hires has been that the first round of staff we need needs to be highly qualified,” she said. “We’re not in a position right now to be hiring lower skilled or training staff.

“We really need the staff to own it,” she added. “We don’t have a lot of hierarchy in our company. We’re a big team.”

Initially, the branch will focus on painting and assembling parts. A state of the art paint system is currently being installed and is the reason the company expanded the plant during construction.

Wright credits local contractors for being able to adjust to changes on the fly. Farley companies Decker Concrete and Advanced Precast have built most of the facility.

While cultural hurdles are likely to continue, Wright said she and her fellow execs have felt more than accommodated since breaking ground in July.

“Most of the tradespeople have been excellent to work with,” she said. “We don’t get homesick.”

Then again, putting the finishing touches on the plant has required 16-hour workdays, leaving little room to think about anything else. The end, for Wright, will justify all of it.

“We’re in an exciting time,” she added.