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.