In 50 years, Johnson Controls in Norman has grown from 50 employees to more than 1,100, and management intends to add 300 more jobs over the next year.
The commercial HVAC manufacturing and assembly plant was started in 1972 as Westinghouse. Johnson manufactures systems for everything from retail stores and fast food restaurants to large industrial facilities.
Since the early 70s, the plant has been in an almost constant state of growth. Perhaps the biggest upgrade came in 2019, when the plant almost doubled in size. Growing from 500,000 square feet to 900,000 square feet, Johnson has become the industry’s premier site for researching, manufacturing and testing rooftop HVAC units.
The factory performs performance and safety tests on 150 ton units at temperatures ranging from sub-zero to 130 degrees.
In April, Johnson Controls invested $7.5 million in factory automation technology.
Doug Schuster, the facility’s vice president and general manager, said the addition of a metal fabrication area provided increased capacity ahead of an expected increase in demand for commercial HVAC systems following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Equipment upgrades included automated press brakes – robots that bend metal – and laser and turret machines.
Neil Wachter, the plant’s senior manager, said the facility uses one million pounds of sheet metal a week. This metal turns into air conditioners on top of commercial buildings.
Schuster described the Normandy facility as the center of the commercial production universe for Johnson Controls. He said heat pump technology is changing as much of the planet seeks to reduce carbon emissions. The Norman plant has recently focused on system research and development, he said.
“A lot of work is going on on how do you kind of reduce that carbon footprint and how do you take heat pumps and apply them in very cold climates, where generally they work more in a southern climate,” said Schuster.
In 2025, Schuster announced that it would launch a new series of products that reduce global warming potential by using alternative refrigerants.
The immediate future will provide opportunities for more jobs as Johnson Controls aims to increase production volume by 50% next year.
“We’re going to hire about 30 to 35 percent more people than we currently have,” Wachter said. “We have already started to accelerate this to prepare for it. And we’re going to keep pushing through that.
Schuster said he was looking forward to local talent coming to work at Johnson Controls.
“We have to get these 300 people here,” he said.
Coming out of the pandemic, Schuster said he saw a “huge” number of orders as schools received money to improve air circulation in buildings.
“It was an interesting process, but something we felt really good about,” he said.
On Friday, Johnson Controls produced about 60,000 units this year. They plan to produce 83,000 in 2023.
During a celebration of the company’s 50th anniversary on Friday morning, Scott Martin, president and chief executive of the Normandy Chamber of Commerce, said Johnson Controls had not only made a significant contribution to the local workforce, but that he also had a heart for the community.
“We’re pausing today just to celebrate their first 50 years, but look forward to the next 50 as Johnson Controls continues to set the standard,” Martin said.