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Once full of promise, recycler Nextlife shuts down

By: Jim Johnson

December 2, 2013

These days, Nextlife Holding LLC’s website is still up and running, touting the company’s successes and plans for employing hundreds and hundreds of workers to recycle plastics.

But the doors are closed at the company’s plant in Frankfort, Ky., and the equipment sits idle. And calls to the company’s Boca Raton, Fla., phone number include in this familiar refrain: “We’re sorry you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service.”

Local media coverage out of Frankfort painted a grim picture. First about 40 full-time workers were laid off in July, leaving 71 still on the job, according to The State Journal newspaper. The other shoe dropped for those remaining folks, the paper said in October, when the plant closed.

And then, just weeks later, the Kentucky Capital Development Corp., decided to go after the company for $700,000 still owed for equipment purchased through a grant.

It’s a story of business dreams unrealized, promises unfulfilled.

Nextlife, armed with the confidence after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave tacit approval to a process would allow recycled polystyrene and polypropylene resins to be used for food grade packaging, identified Frankfort in plans to invest $9.5 million and employee about 300 at full capacity.

A shuttered automobile parts factory found new life in a new economy by taking others’ discards and making recycled resin even though employment projects eventually were scaled back to about 160.

This was the kind of project that brought out Kentucky’s governor for a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2010.

This was the kind of project that had politicians and company officials talking like politicians and company officials do at these kinds of events, news coverage at the time showed. Gov. Steve Beshear pointed to the site as a sign of progress.

There was good reason for people to be enthused about the recycled plastic-based project at a time when the nation’s unemployment rate was still at 9.5 percent.

Nextlife CEO Ronald Whaley, at the time, said the plant would not be around except for the hard work of local officials.

These days, Whaley runs a consultancy, according to his LinkedIn profile. Once the public face of Nextlife, he had little to say about the company when recently contacted. His profile said he left the company in July.

“I don’t really know,” he said, when asked about the company. “I really haven’t been involved in it.”

Kim Smith, executive director of the development corporation, said the site is matter is in the hands of the lawyers as her organization tries to recoup its loan.

Equipment purchased with the funds remains at the facility, she said. Closure of the site did not come as a complete surprise to the economic developer.

“We had been meeting with them monthly for the last three or four months trying to keep on top of where things were. They were trying to get investors and I think it just got to the point to where time ran out,” Smith said in a Dec. 2 interview.

“We’re disappointed that things didn’t work out for them. Any time you lose a business, it’s disappointing,” he said.

A person familiar with the company’s situation also indicated that Nextlife’s recycling facility in Rogers, Ark., also closed before the Kentucky location shuttered its operations. It was only last October that the company announced plans for that plastics recycling facility that was to cost $10 million and employ 350.