Metrolina greenhouses robot

Metrolina Greenhouses leaders said these robot spacers are one of the innovations that handles jobs people didn’t like to do in a more efficient way while offering an opportunity for higher paying jobs elsewhere in the company. 

HUNTERSVILLE – Trucks filled with plants continuously left the loading area while the greenhouse buzzed with dozens of workers and machines planting, watering, sorting and packing products.

Just before Mother’s Day is the busiest season for Huntersville-based Metrolina Greenhouses, and the business is growing – literally and figuratively. Already it boasts the country’s largest single-site greenhouse at 7.8 million square feet, and nearly 50 acres are under construction for future outdoor growing space and operations.

It’s an American Dream story for the Van Wingerden family that started the company after moving to the area from Holland in 1971.

Co-CEO Abe Van Wingerden said the growth of the business has allowed them to offer higher paying jobs to the company’s 700 year-round employees in the Huntersville and York, S.C., locations who work to grow and distribute a variety of products, including annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees and herbs.

Metrolina Greenhouses Co-CEO Abe Van Wingerden

Metrolina Greenhouses Co-CEO Abe Van Wingerden said the company is still centered on its commitment to employees.

Metrolina Greenhouses also utilizes new technology, including the robots that line pots into rows, machines that plant clippings or the system that waters the plants from underneath rather than above. But even with the growth the company has seen, Van Wingerden said it is still centered on the core values his parents built it on, including doing right by people, adding new innovations, being a sustainable business and doing everything with integrity.

“We are still a family business,” Van Wingerden said. “We are just a little bigger than we used to be.”

The leaders’ commitment to their employees as well as to innovation and technology are some of the reasons Walmart representatives and N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest visited the facility May 7 to recognize it and celebrate U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Metrolina Greenhouses started as a Walmart vendor in 1992 selling $58,000 in live goods. That number is now more than $100 million for the 797 Walmart stores it supplies in the Southeast.

Walmart Chief Merchandising Officer Steve Bratspies said the establishment of Metrolina Greenhouses is similar to Walmart’s familial beginnings and that the partnership is an example of how Walmart is committed to buying products that support American jobs.

“We want to be part of the solution and create jobs,” Bratspies said. “Walmart has committed $250 billion to support American products by 2023. … We take pride in supporting suppliers who create American jobs.”

Angie Jones has one of those. The 2017 Metrolina Greenhouse’s Employee of the Year began at the company more than a decade ago. She’s held a few different positions and now works in the recycling department where plastic containers that are returned from the stores get used again or are recycled. It’s a way Metrolina can be efficient and cost-effective while helping the environment.

“It’s a family-oriented company that cares about its employees,” Jones said of working at Metrolina. “I enjoy being a mentor, and the rewards are inside and outside. It’s a family-oriented company, and I’m proud to be part of that family.”

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