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USG has new plant manager

New USG Interiors plant manager Rich Quintana didn’t grow up planning to make his name in business.

As a high school student in Cleveland, Ohio, he studied the machine trades, learning the skills of a machinist, fabrication, welding and more. That’s what Quintana loved and what he planned to do.

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Then he graduated right in the middle of the Jimmy Carter/Ronald-Reagan-era recession. Jobs weren’t easy to find, especially in Cleveland. So his dad suggested he go back to school until the economy got better. He also suggested Rich study engineering since he was good at math.

“The rest is history,” said Quintana.

It’s been 28 years since Quintana was hired as a design engineer by USG. Since then he’s moved through the ranks of engineering and production and now he is a plant manager.

“It’s been a great career and a great company,” he said. “I love working for them.”

Quintana officially took over as plant manager of the USG Interiors Cloquet plant on May 1, replacing Bill Schmitt, who retired. Quintana worked under Schmitt between 1998 and 2000, so he is no stranger to the plant or the area.

At that time, Quintana managed one of USG’s three production departments. Although all three lines make acoustical ceiling tiles, each line uses a different process. The end result is ceiling tiles suitable for a range of rooms, from a basement rec room to advanced offices in New York and Seattle.

Quintana spent the last nine years managing a USG manufacturing plant near Atlanta, Georgia. It was a smaller plant, employing about 30 people who manufactured the grid suspension system for acoustical tiles. The Cloquet plant, in comparison, employs approximately 380 people.

The main business of USG nationwide, Quintana explained, is fabricating sheetrock, but the Cloquet facility is a different branch of the USG Corporation.

“This big plant covers about 125 acres, and that’s all we make, is acoustical ceiling tiles,” Quintana said, explaining that USG purchased the plant and its surroundings from Conwed in 1985.

He noted that the Cloquet USG plant exports to every state in the country from Seattle to New York.

Quintana started working full time in Cloquet the last weekend of July and it’s been full-speed-ahead ever since.

Much of USG was in “remodeling mode” for the last half of 2013.

“I think we turned a corner in regard to the overall economy in the U.S.” Quintana said. “Business here is good, but like all businesses, we went through some difficulties during the recession.”

However, he explained, volume improved and business is steady, so USG is making investments in the facility here. Employee facilities from the break room to locker rooms are being renovated, as are the company’s offices.

The biggest change will come in the first quarter of this year, when the company plans to start up a new production line.

“It’s been about an 18-month project,” Quintana said. “That, along with significant investments in environmental projects dealing with emissions, really show the commitment that corporate USG has in the sustainability of the Cloquet operations.”

Although he declined to give a specific dollar figure for the various investments, Quintana did say that the environmental improvements as well as planning and building the new line required “tens of millions of dollars.”

The environmental projects will result in improved emissions, he said.

Improved emissions could allow the plant to expand its operations even further.

“I believe in order for us to increase the volume and grow our business, we needed to improve our environmental emissions system,” he said. “I think it’s a great investment in the Cloquet operation, and it’s an important signal to employees and the community USG has a lot of confidence in our plant. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t have invested in [all this],” he added, gesturing at the draped front entrance and hallways lined with unpainted drywall.

Quintana wasn’t at USG when massive flash floods hit Carlton County in 2012, but the new plant manager had high praise for the foresight and actions taken before the flood that kept the plant safe and mostly dry.

“Our hazard consultants recognized we were at risk,” he said, explaining that the company’s insurance carrier had been working with USG since 2010, urging them to consider a “top notch” flood containment plan that would involve the installation of flood gates at the entrances and ramps of the mill’s vulnerable lower levels. USG spent half a million dollars on that flood prevention plan in the six months before the June 2012 flood, and it all paid off.

“We had consulted with the engineer about the area’s 500-year flood plain — and then added another foot,” said then-plant-manager Bill Schmitt in a 2012 interview with the Pine Journal. “… when all was said and done, the water was about eight inches from the top of the gates.”

USG avoided significant damage by installing the flood gates. As a result, production was only shut down for five days and the Cloquet plant didn’t miss a single customer order.

 “It was a real testimony to the efforts of the good people of the Cloquet plant, that we really didn’t miss a beat in services to our customers,” Quintana said. “And, most importantly, we did that without jeopardizing the safety of our employees. There were no injuries, no near misses. I think that shows the character of the plant — its strong focus on safety and commitment to customers.”

That’s something Quintana isn’t planning to change.


 Education: Quintana graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Cleveland State University, before getting a graduate degree as a systems engineer from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and a Masters in Business Administration from Georgia Tech.

Family: Trained mechanical engineer Rich Quintana has a twin brother, Louie, who is an electrical engineer. He says their wives “look like sisters.”

Rich and his wife, Linda, were high school sweethearts in Cleveland.

They have three sons: Adam, Sean and Ryan. Adam is a nuclear officer in the Navy, Sean is a welder and fabricator in Cleveland. Their youngest, Ryan, 21, is the only son that moved with them and will be attending Lake Superior College.

“We love the Northland,” Quintana said, noting they enjoy hunting deer and small game. “When we lived here, all three of our sons played hockey. Personally, my passion is walleye fishing. I grew up fishing in Lake Erie — I love it.” (It’s a good thing he never sold the walleye fishing boat they purchased here in 2000.)

Ability to adapt to Northland winters: Winters here compare favorable to Cleveland, Quintana said.

“In Cleveland, you get a freeze/thaw cycle. At least here, the snow sticks around,” he said. “There are opportunities for people to explore here that most people don’t have.”

Still, the transition from living and working in Atlanta, Ga., to Cloquet, Minn., has been a little bit of a shock to the system.

“December has been quite an awakening [after living in Georgia],” Quintana said. “But it was an easy decision to move back here, despite the cold. Next winter we’ll have our thick blood back.”