Lining the stairwell are black and white photos depicting a happy family; a father and son at the helm of a boat, young children bundled in their warm winter coats and a family smiling at the camera as they sit out on their front lawn.
The images are there to remind John Hazen White Jr., and his employees, that family comes first.
And Taco is a family.
“I love this company with all my heart and soul. What a blessing to be surrounded by such great people,” Hazen White said.
Investing in that family is a priority for Hazen White, the president and CEO of the HVAC manufacturing powerhouse started by his grandfather in 1920. Last Thursday, he revealed the company’s new Innovation and Development Center, a $20 million project that will further train and educate the Taco workforce.
“This is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” Hazen White said. “This is about taking Taco to a whole ’nother level, not only in growth and development, but in commitment.”
“This project was undertaken and completed for you,” he added, addressing his employees. “Everything else comes next.”
Hazen White also said he believes his parents, John Hazen White Sr., and Happy White, would be proud of what the company has achieved. At the groundbreaking one year and 18 days before last week’s ceremony, Hazen White Jr. had said the $20 million investment was not a decision his father would have made, but one he would be ultimately happy with.
“I think they would be very proud, not of me, but of all of us,” he said.
Dan Holohan, a leading writer in the HVAC industry, recalled an interview he heard Hazen White Jr. give on the radio. The host said that Rhode Island has a reputation for having unskilled workers. Hazen White paused, laughed, and said, “So train them.”
“That big challenge grappled to the ground with that three-word solution,” Holohan recalled. “Johnny doesn’t wait for help. He reaches down and does what’s right for his people. This is a family that’s 500-strong.”
The Taco Innovation and Development Center consists of a two-story, 24,000-square foot, LEED-certified addition to the current building on Cranston Street. The center will offer learning and training space, complete with new classrooms, conference rooms, a business center and labs for testing and teaching that cover geothermal, solar thermal, snowmelt, water conservation and cooling technologies, among other things. HVAC products and systems will be on display throughout the facility for hands-on learning.
“It’s not cheap and it’s not easy, but that’s what you do when you love a place,” Holohan said.
The opportunities at the Innovation and Development Center expand upon a pre-existing educational environment, where Taco employees could take everything from basic math to MBA courses. The company has educated architects, engineers and contractors in the HVAC industry.
Taco employs nearly 500 people, with roughly 400 workers in Rhode Island alone.
“The Innovation and Development Center is a testament to Taco’s dedication to its employees,” said Bob Mayoh, a Taco spokesman.
That dedication is an investment in future growth, said Senior Vice President Kyle Adamonis.
“It’s our employees who have brought us here today and who will take us into the future,” she said.
The facility was built thanks to builder Shawmut Design and Construction, architect Baker Design Group and AKF Engineering, among others. Construction on the project took just over one year, and brought about 200 local construction jobs to the state.
“The construction folks involved in this have become such a part of our company. It’ll be sad to see them leave,” Hazen White Jr. said.
It is a sad goodbye, too, for Gianni Santagata, a student from St. Joseph’s School who witnessed construction each morning as his parents drove to his grandparents’ home in Cranston. Each day, he would report to his mother what had changed, prompting Hazen White to invite the family to the ribbon cutting.
When asked what he thought of the finished product, Santagata said, “It’s good.”
Governor Lincoln Chafee and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung both said that Taco is an important component of the state’s economic development, and is evidence that manufacturing can still thrive in America.
“It’s great to have a company here in Rhode Island that makes something that, when you drop it, it makes a noise,” Chafee said. “They’re taking the profits of good times and investing in an Innovation and Development Center for the future.”
The governor said that is an inspiration for government “for when we someday see good times.”
Fung hopes that Taco is part of Cranston’s fabric for his term and far beyond.
“I’m proud that they made a commitment to Cranston. They are a part of Cranston’s family,” he said.
He also mentioned the Hazen White family’s commitment to their employees and to the community, as the White Family Foundation supports countless non-profits in the state.
“That’s the type of people you want operating companies not only in Cranston, but in our great state of Rhode Island and in the United States,” Fung said.