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Cool changes bring growth for Hotset

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

The new president and vice-president of Hotset have seen people carpool from Swainsboro to work and wonder why. President Kenneth Willoughby says, “You can make the same money with us and probably be in a better, cleaner environment, but people don’t know.”

What has become Swainsboro’s best kept secret to a growing number of citizens resides on Kite Road down from the Emanuel County Medical Center. Hotset is a company started in Germany in 1973 and the leader in industrial heating elements and temperature control technology. Locally, the company distributes heating elements and temperature controls and in 2014 as “Hotset America” it added the control cabinet business.

What sets Hotset apart? For one, the base pay starts at $16 and can go up to $34 an hour depending on the level of experience and “how willing someone is to come in here and take hold of the reins and learn,” Willoughby adds. Teresa Coleman, head of Hotset human resources, states the company offers three medical insurance policies with several dental and vision plans and pays 70% for individual insurance and 50% for family insurance. At one year of service employees receive two weeks vacation and after five years, three weeks.

Since many local business salaries start at $12, it would seem Hotset would be flooded with applicants, but this hasn’t been the case. The company has taken all the orders it can handle for this year and has had to turn others away. They need at least 75 employees to meet current demand and are at 54.

Last April, management changed at Hotset. The president left and the owner of the German-based company, Ralf Schwarzkopf, chose a three-person management team to steer the ship. By July, he appointed Kenneth Willoughby as president and Arthur Screws as vice-president. The third member, Teresa Coleman, was moved into the position of human resources coordinator. These three are aware of the need for more employees and have pulled in contract labor to help. Four employees are contracted from other states as far as Texas and last week two contracted from Germany returned to their homes.

“We’ve been bringing help from wherever we can get it. It’s very expensive, and it isn’t what we want to do,” says Screws. Willoughby would prefer to provide opportunities to the people in this community then pay someone from another state or county and insists, “We would like to grow with Emanual county.”

To attract more employees, the new management team is making strategic changes.

Faster onboarding “The word on the street was we would lag behind in our application processing,” notes Coleman, “From the time they were called in, interviewed, had a drug screening and a background check to the time they were called back with an offer was just too long. People were moving on and finding jobs somewhere else.” So she and other managers will be making sure the turnaround time between interview and job offer is faster for top-selected applicants.

Employees as family President Willoughby wants employees to be treated differently. “Our management team now has a different outlook,” he says, “For me, for a company to be successful you have to treat your employees like family, not like numbers. I don’t know that that’s always been how we’ve looked at it here.” Before working at Hotset, Willoughby worked for family-owned, residential lighting companies in Statesboro and Florida, one of these businesses had over 200 employees but still treated employees as family members showing him how, “you can run a mid-scale operation with a family environment.”

Focus on community outreach When Willoughby started as president at Hotset in July, that same week he was appointed as president of the Rotary club. He didn’t plan on this happening, but when it did, he saw the need for Hotset to reach out more to the schools and civic clubs within the community than it had in the past. This is important, he feels, to make sure the company can grow with the community.

On-the-job-training with flexible roles Few people have experience with assembling cables and coils into larger systems, Screws has noticed, “Some people are intimidated by what we do, but we can teach you. We’ve taken people with very little to no electrical experience and they are building some of the most complex panels that we have.”

Willoughby started out at the company ten years ago as a supply chain manager and worked his way up to president. The employee who replaced him as supply chain manager started off in materials. Moving around in the company allows for moving up.

Both Willoughby and Screws have seen how employees benefit from Hotset’s flexible work structure. There are many areas where employees can work - shipping, receiving, storage, cables, materials, labeling, managing, inspecting. People in materials deal with numbers all day. The cable work requires someone to be able to sit in one place and pay attention to detail. There’s a lot of cross-training. “We try to find an area where they can fit,” notes Screws.

“If you have a good work ethic, we can give you the tools to learn all of the rest,” states Willoughby. “We are working to build this company into the premiere distribution and manufacturing company in Emanuel county. We just need people from our community to come join the team.”

If you are interested in joining the Hotset team call (912) 289-1844 or go to

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