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Wednesday, Jul 6, 2022

Big Box Hiring

MANUFACTURING: Lief Labs expands with new warehouse but needs workers to fill it.

Dietary supplement manufacturer Lief Labs is meeting increased business demand by leasing an approximately 110,000-square-foot warehouse. Now the big task, according to Chief Executive Adel Villalobos, is getting enough workers for the new space.

Valencia-based Lief has begun a hiring initiative that is looking to bring on 20 to 30 people – a goal that will prove challenging, according to Villalobos.

“There has been expansion in the manufacturing sector, in the warehouse sector and logistics sector ever since Covid hit, so the amount of people that is required to satisfy the growth in those sectors is not out there,” Villalobos said. 

Lief is recruiting at all levels, from warehouse and administrative positions to management and executive roles. Villalobos recalled times in his career where the talent pool at different levels of employment fluctuated between highs and lows, but now, no talent pool is safe.

Compounding executive, middle management and labor levels of employment being strained is the evolution of skill sets needed for employees to be qualified for their roles.

“People are required to have much more technical skills at all levels, much more computing skills and much more adapting skills in order to handle changing technologies and environments,” Villalobos said, adding the need for technical aptitude was accelerated by Covid.

“The leaders of today need to understand that and be able to lead those changes; the employees of today need to understand that their (objective) is going to keep moving and that their environment is going to keep changing,” Villalobos said. 

To meet its own workforce demand, Lief is teaming up with schools such as Mission College and College of the Canyons. The company is building a curriculum for the technical skills needed by employees and plans to convert its first facility, which is approximately 8,000 square feet, into a training center for community members and potential employees.

“These are the things we’re doing now, expanding in warehouse space, expanding in thought and teaming up with local community colleges to make sure that we’re upscaling the labor force not just for ourselves, but for the entire community,” Villalobos said.

An extra obstacle in hiring for companies such as Lief is that manufacturing cannot happen remotely, so workers must work in person.

New address 

The company’s new facility is located at 29025 Avenue Paine in Valencia. With the lease, Lief’s combined footprint stands at more than 220,000 square feet across a total of three properties. The other facilities include the company’s headquarters and a training and tech operations building.

The new facility, which neighbors Lief’s headquarters, took about two years to be built, according to Villalobos, who added that an investment of about $3 million was required to get the facility up and running.

“The expansion allows us to expand production, our current facilities and enables us to expand warehousing,” he said. “(The new facility) adds services like business-to-business fulfillment, so that our customers can utilize us rather than multiple businesses to handle their fulfillment and shipping needs.”

Villalobos had an eye on the facility years ago, when it was merely a plot of land next to Lief’s headquarters. Having secured a first right of refusal for the plot, Lief later decided that it needed to expand and pulled the trigger on negotiating a lease. 

“I’m glad we did, because lease rates now are about one and a half to two and a half times greater than they used to be,” Villalobos said. “This was planned about three years ago and logistically, works out for the company.”

Pharmavite, another dietary supplement maker, operates two locations in Valencia. One facility acts as a research and development hub and as the company’s west coast packaging facility. The other is Pharmavite’s west coast warehouse and distribution center.

Pharmavite has grown significantly throughout the pandemic, riding the tailwind of a popularity increase in dietary supplements. So has Lief, according to Holly Schroeder, chief executive of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corp.

“Lief has been a fast-growing company for many years, making the Inc. 5000 list many years in a row,” Schroeder wrote in an email to the Business Journal. “Their customer base and demand has continued to increase, driving their decision to make this expansion. We are pleased to see Lief continue its expansion in the Santa Clarita Valley, adding new employees and investment.”

Villalobos, who belongs to the Los Angeles CEO Council within the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said that he and his colleagues are determined to keep business in California as large companies consider moving out of state. 

The new Lief facility shows that a company can find ways to stay in the state.

“If we would have had a hard time finding a space, we may have had to look elsewhere,” Villalobos said. “So, it’s a milestone for us and for the community that we can continue to employ people, especially if we want to continue to train and develop the local workforce.”

Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio Pequeño IV
Antonio “Tony” Pequeño IV is a reporter covering health care, finance and law for the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He specializes in reporting on some of the biggest names in the Valley’s biotechnology sector. In addition to his work with the Business Journal, Tony has reported with BuzzFeed News on the unsupervised use of Clearview AI, a controversial facial recognition technology. Tony, who also conducts freelance reporting, graduated from the USC’s Master of Science in Journalism program in 2021. He is in his fifth year as a journalist as of 2021.

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