50 Strong focuses on domestic manufacturing

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50 Strong The family behind 50 Strong water bottles builds its business on "Made in the USA" ownership.

For the Lima, Ohio, Carters, family ownership encompasses “Made in the USA” ownership.

50 Strong boasts it makes its water bottles and other bicycle accessories in the United States, which it believes gives it a marketing edge over most competitors who mold plastic bottles offshore.

50 Strong blow molds recreational water bottles and related products in Lima. The firm made nearly 3 million bottles last year from polypropylene and Tritan copolyester supplied by Eastman Chemical Co. 50 Strong is a division of Precision Thermoplastic Components Inc., a custom injection molder and extruder. 50 Strong was formed in 2012 when Ashley Thompson, daughter of PTC founder Randy Carter, and her husband Brendan Thompson launched the business.

The company sells its products through more than 3,000 U.S. Wal-Mart Stores locations and other retailers. 50 Strong and PTC together employ about 100, some personnel working for both companies.

50 Strong CEO Ashley Thompson said her company heavily promotes its U.S. manufacturing at trade shows and other venues, where they are well received. The company’s name is a nod to the 50 states. She said Wal-Mart’s “Made in the USA” program has been a boon to 50 Strong’s fortunes.

The focus on domestic manufacturing led 50 Strong to set up the 50 Strong Foundation to award scholarships to workers pursuing careers in manufacturing. The foundation is self-funded, aided by PTC donating 10 percent of its profits. The aim is to help educate and train factory workers to be successful in today’s advanced manufacturing environments. 50 Strong works with the Apollo Career Center in Lima for the curriculum taught for a short term to gain a certificate.

“If we can get just some young people interested in manufacturing, it would benefit everyone,” Ashley Thompson explained. The foundation has just awarded its first scholarship. She said her company supports the foundation whether or not graduates want to work at 50 Strong or even in the plastics industry.

“Our passion is to bring more manufacturing products and jobs back home to help strengthen communities and make America better,” said Ashley Thompson.

“We hope that what we have been able to accomplish will encourage other manufacturers to produce more products domestically and encourage more retailers to take a closer look at and select American-made products for their stores.”

Carter is chairman of 50 Strong and Brendan Thompson is president. Ashley Thompson’s older brother is a teacher and has not had any interest in joining the family businesses. Carter’s forte is new product development and production operations while the financial side and aesthetics are handled by Brendan and Ashley Thompson, respectively. Transitioning the Carter’s plastics business to Ashley and Brendan Thompson went smoothly.

Ashley Thompson started her work career in corporate law. She took a few years off to start a family, then came back to the workforce in 2012 to head PTC’s human resources department before helping launch 50 Strong. Brendan Thompson was a mechanical engineer who joined PTC in 2006 and assumed the post of vice president of sales before becoming 50 Strong’s vice president of sales.

Ashley Thompson said she and her husband understand each other because they work in the same environment. When one of them has a bad day it’s easier to discuss the issues.

“We talk the same talk and walk the same walk,” she mused.

The closeness, however, can at times make it difficult to leave work in the workplace. Like many couples, they need to find ways to set barriers.

In her travels, Ashley Thompson finds the next generation expects product features that enable them to customize or personalize the product to their liking.

“We found that this customization was missing from the hydration category, so we set out to rectify that,” she recalled. The market research led to the launch in March of Simply Better Bottles, a product line designed to bring vibrant, young energy to the water bottle aisle with innovative aesthetics, high style and affordable prices not seen before in the hydration category. The new line includes bottles with differing mixing action, a pocket to hold keys and cash, and insulation to keep drinks cold and hands warm. Assorted bright colors and interchangeable caps and lanyards offer extra freedom for customization. And the “Made in the USA” label should appeal to young people, she said.

Ashley Thompson looks forward to more product launches.

“We also will remain an activist for U.S. manufacturing,” she said.

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