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Taco-CCRI partnership builds community
The label “Made in America” is a rare one these days, and “Made in Rhode Island” is rarer still, but Cranston’s Taco Inc. (pronounced “Tay-ko”) has made products right here in the community for more than 90 years. The company is a recognized leader in the production of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning products it manufactures for buildings.
Taco’s success comes down to a belief in Rhode Island’s workforce, said President and CEO John Hazen White Jr.; the belief that Rhode Islanders, given a chance, can get the job done better than anyone else and that investment in them will pay off. White has backed up this belief to the tune of $18 million, creating the Taco Innovation & Development Center in conjunction with the Community College of Rhode Island as part of wider plant renovations.
The Innovation & Development Center offers free courses to company employees and their families, not only in job-related skills but also in topics such as civics, English as a second language, personal finance and weight loss. The center is an expansion of the Taco Learning Center (TLC) that first opened in the early 1990s with the help of CCRI’s Center for Workforce and Community Education, which helped design the course curriculum.
Investment in his employees on this scale makes White something of a renegade in a business culture dedicated to relentlessly cutting costs, but he said his people-centric approach means Taco has “… grown from a $30 million company to a $200 million company with the same 500 people.” No layoffs, no outsourcing.
“I think that the business climate has promoted – and particularly the stockholder climate has promoted and required – that earnings be constantly driven up by big companies, which has caused them to chase cheap labor all over the world, which has cost millions and millions of American jobs,” White said.
“I think public companies are at a disadvantage because they are having to perform for stockholders who know little or nothing about the company. So the ability to do what’s necessarily, in many cases, right for people and for customers is difficult because choices and decisions are being made on behalf of stockholders.”
White also believes in building up his community, which is why he is a consistent donor to the Community College of Rhode Island. The Taco/White Family Foundation is a regular contributor to the college for capital projects and student scholarships, recently giving $20,000 to the college. White said that support for local, affordable education is not just a humanitarian choice in hard economic times, but a sound business one as well.
“I think companies like Taco in any community have an obligation to create a stronger and stronger foundation for the educational institutions surrounding us,” White said. “These are institutions that are putting forth the people who will not only come and work here and help us to grow and develop and prosper in our own environment but are the people that are going to go on to lead the country.”