Category: Plastics

Berry Global

For a plastics company that stays on the cutting edge of beverage packaging trends, Berry Global’s Erie plant has a definite sense of history.

The facility itself, in the heart of Erie’s Little Italy neighborhood, got its start in 1895 as Heisler Locomotive Works, a maker of steam locomotives. It changed hands over the years, turning to metal stamping and metal crowns before transitioning to plastic caps in the early 1990s.

That history is apparent in the sprawling factory. In some areas, original wooden beams are evident. Other parts of the building are new, the result of a recent $4 million expansion.

What has remained constant through the years is a focus on quality – a focus that has made the Erie facility a standout in Berry Global’s network.

“We’ve made a conscientious effort to focus on the quality of the products that we’re putting out for the customer,” says Bob Guthrie, the Erie plant manager. “Because without the customer, you’re nothing.”

Erie plant leaders speak with pride about how customers have been known to request products made in the Erie facility. That attention to detail is a credit to the employees – some of whom have been there for decades, and have proved themselves to be resilient problem-solvers during the years of ownership changes, Guthrie says.

The Erie plant also prizes its focus on safety, which includes something that I haven’t seen at any of the other businesses I’ve visited – a circle painted on the floor that guides workers about forklift safety.

The Erie facility’s leaders are likewise proud of their commitment to their Little Italy neighborhood – a pocket of the city that has undergone its own share of changes over the decades. But Berry’s Erie leaders embrace their role as a positive influence on the neighborhood.

“We have the opportunity to stay here and help give it a new stability,” Guthrie says.

About Berry Global: Berry is committed to its mission of “Always Advancing to Protect What’s Important,” and proudly partners with its customers to provide them with value-added customized protection solutions. The company’s products include engineered materials, non-woven specialty materials and consumer packaging. Berry’s world headquarters is located in Evansville, Indiana, with net sales of $6.5 billion in fiscal 2016. Berry, a Fortune 500 company, is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (BERY). The Erie facility, with about 150 employees, is part of Berry’s consumer packaging division, and is on track to produce more than 5.9 billion plastic caps this year. The Erie plant also runs engineering services for its division, serving 12 Berry facilities. The Erie products can be seen in bottle caps for soft drinks, juice and water, in addition to some condiments. “You can barely go anywhere without seeing a Berry product,” Guthrie says.

Why Erie County: For Guthrie and the Erie plant’s leadership team, the appeal of Erie is clear – a low cost of living and a wealth of activities and entertainment options. But the county also offers an appealing atmosphere from a business perspective. There are plenty of opportunities for community involvement, particularly in the Little Italy neighborhood. And in addition, the wealth of manufacturers and smaller tool shops in Erie County creates a support network for Berry Global. “If we need something, it’s miles away, it’s not hours away,” says the Erie plant’s Ben Atkins.

Challenges of Erie County: One challenge that Berry Global faces in Erie is not unique to that company, or to the plastics industry. Rather, it reflects a reality that many manufacturers have discussed – the imminent retirement of longtime, highly skilled candidates. Christen Brown, HR manager for Berry’s Erie plant, expects a wave of retirements in the next 10 years, and says the company will face the challenge of finding new candidates who can fill those roles. Having adequate training opportunities for those new employees will be key, plant leaders say. It’s important, for example, to find a candidate with some mechanical awareness, a hands-on ability and a willingness to learn. In addition, Guthrie says, it’s increasingly important for that candidate to have “an awareness of how the digital world interfaces with the mechanical.”

Fun fact: The current workforce of 150 employees at the Erie location have a combined tenure of more than 1,900 years of service.

Address: 316 W. 16th St., Erie PA 16502 or www.berryglobal.com

Port Erie Plastics

My visit to Port Erie Plastics, in Harborcreek Township, was a reminder of how prevalent plastics are in our daily lives.

I was sitting at a table talking with some of the company’s managers about the business when Jon Connole, the sales and marketing manager, suddenly took notice of my keychain.

“That’s one of ours,” he said.

It turns out, he was right. My keychain is from Erie’s Munio, and it was made right there in Harborcreek.

As we toured Port Erie Plastics, I saw more everyday items coming off the production lines: Christmas tree stands. Storage bins. Pill boxes.

In a room tucked away in a corner of the 300,000-square-foot facility, specialty items were being imprinted by a laser printer. This division handles products made for a company run by Jim Kelly, the Buffalo Bills legend.

The broad range of products, serving a variety of industries, bear out the plastics-driven future that founder Henry Witkowski foresaw when he launched the business in 1953.

The company has grown since its founding, moving from Erie’s east side to its current site in Harborcreek in 1966.

“We were the only thing out here then,” said William Witkowski, Henry’s son and the current owner and CEO.

The Harborcreek facility, which has steadily grown in the decades since, is ready for another expansion (more on that later), in order to accommodate the steady growth of business.

The company, which has hired more than 30 people in the past few weeks, is looking to hire about another 20, said John Johnson, the company’s president.

“It’s new customers and new products,” he said of Port Erie Plastics’ recent growth.

About Port Erie Plastics: The company, which started with one injection molding machine, now runs 90 machines and specializes in custom plastic injection molding.  The company also offers other services to customers, and runs its own in-house tool room and engineering facilities. The company has more than 400 employees, both in its main facility on the east side of Troupe Road and at its 275,000-square-foot warehousing facility, just a bit south on the west side of Troupe Road. The company has been in growth mode for the past 15 to 20 years, Johnson said, with an extra boost coming in the past several months.

Why Erie County:  The leadership team at Port Erie Plastics sees many positives in the quality of life that the community offers for workers. That includes community assets, recreational opportunities and a relatively easy commute. In addition, the company has seen the advantages of having Penn State Behrend’s  plastics engineering programs in their backyard. In fact, the Witkowski family joined with other Erie-area plastics companies to help initiate and develop the program at Behrend. As a result, Port Erie Plastics and other local plastics companies enjoy the benefits of Behrend-trained interns and employees.

Challenges of Erie County: While Port Erie Plastics is able to find workers for its plastics engineering positions, filling general employment positions remains a challenge. The company struggles to find qualified workers. As that demand for workers is only expected to increase in the next decade, Port Erie Plastics identified a need for more pathways to manufacturing jobs – whether in high school or through a community college. Another challenge of being located in Erie County is even more pressing, however: Port Erie Plastics has been frustrated by delays in getting a permit to add on to their existing facility. The plans originally called for work to begin in the spring; due to delays, now the company is worried about getting the work done before winter sets in.

Fun fact: The Witkowski Building, part of the Engineering Complex at Penn State Behrend, was named for William Witkowski.

Address: 909 Troupe Road, Harborcreek, PA 16421 or www.porterie.com.

Accudyn Products Inc., Millcreek Township

When I walked into the production area at Accudyn Products in Millcreek Township, I was immediately struck by how bright, clean, and high-tech the operations were. This is not the atmosphere that most people associate with manufacturing, but it is the reality for many of our Erie County manufacturers today.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that manufacturing is not a dirty profession,” Accudyn co-owner Tom Bly told us.

As we toured Accudyn, a family-owned custom injection molder, we saw workers monitoring machines that churned out plastic parts, from tiny shards to large, complex pieces. We saw crews in tooling and molding, in engineering and office support. We also took a peek inside the cavernous addition that is going up behind Accudyn’s Yoder Drive facility.

That extra 6,000 square feet on the facility’s footprint will help accommodate recent growth in the business that was actually sparked, in part, by the company’s secondary facility in Chihuahua, Mexico.

The Mexico manufacturing operation has created a greater need for jobs here in Erie County, including for support services, such as engineering and sales. In fact, Accudyn has added 55 jobs in the past 20 months in Erie County. The Mexico facility also has opened doors to other business sectors, such as the automotive industry.

About Accudyn: The company, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, is a custom injection molder. It handles engineering, tooling, and molding for international customers in a variety of markets – automotive, appliance, electronics, building and construction, heavy trucking, and medical. The company has about 125 employees at its Millcreek Township location and also employs about 270 workers at its manufacturing facility in Chihuahua, Mexico.

Why Erie County: Accudyn is family owned, with a second generation of the Bly family working at the company. Owners Peg and Tom Bly say that they stay in Erie County because, quite simply, Erie County is home. But Accudyn has also benefitted from another Erie County advantage – namely, proximity to Penn State Behrend and its plastics engineering program. Accudyn routinely plucks interns and new hires from Behrend’s engineering program.

Challenges in Erie County: That Behrend advantage is not lost on other plastics companies in the region, which means the Blys often face competition from larger companies to hire recent graduates. The Blys also said that they experience a shortage of workers trained in the skills needed for toolmaking and machining. In addition, they have encountered challenges in township zoning when it comes to expanding their Millcreek facility.

Address: 2400 Yoder Drive, Erie PA 16506

 

Coming up next week: We head out to Better Baked Foods in North East

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