After only one year of operation, Jackson Plastics Inc. is doubling its custom injection molding capacity with the addition of six presses, and breaking ground for a 5,000-square-foot addition. Starting a plastics processing firm isn't an easy or cheap proposition. But Henry Jackson, president and owner of the Nicho-lasville, Ky., firm, had a little help from his friends in the industry.
As former senior vice president and chief financial officer of Clark Material Handling Co., a $700 million division of Clark Equipment, Jackson had 20 years of experience in management and finance for a major manufacturing firm. When Clark sold those operations, Jackson decided to leave the company.
Jackson did not want to leave the Lexington, Ky., area, where he had lived for 12 years and served on the board of trustees at the University of Kentucky. He also knew that finding a position equal to the one he held at Clark would be difficult in an area where there are not many manufacturing firms the size of Clark.
That was when he decided to go into business for himself and set about finding a manufacturing niche.
``I wanted to find an industry that had good growth potential,'' Jackson said in a recent telephone interview. ``Being on the board of trustees, I knew the university had a Center for Advanced Manufacturing and had some high-tech plastics research going on there.''
Jackson went to the people at the center, many of whom were retirees from IBM's manufacturing operations in Lexington who left when IBM sold the facility to Lexmark International. During the summer of 1994, Jackson read books on plastics he got from the center, and researched the industry within a 100-mile radius of Lexington.
He found that prospects looked excellent for building a strong custom molding business with customers from Cincinnati to Louisville, Ky., an area booming with automotive, computer, consumer and major appliance industries.
Jackson bought six injection molding machines from Cincin-nati Milacron, new and rebuilt, with clamping forces of 165-600 tons. He installed them in a new, 10,000-square-foot building.
He had the building and the equipment, but Jackson did not know anything about processing plastics. He said that many small companies go out of business because they do not have the administrative management talent.
``I was just the opposite,'' he said. ``I had the administrative management talent but not the technical expertise.''
So, Jackson put together a team of retired people from the IBM molding facility, ``age 52 on up,'' with 25-40 years experience in the industry. ``That gave me the technical talent base I needed,'' he said.
That also helped Jackson overcome what he said was the most difficult part of starting a custom molding operation: ``getting people comfortable that a finance-type person can run an injection molding company.''
Another custom molder in the area, McKechnie Vehicle Compon-ents, gave Jackson his first jobs in a subcontract arrangement as a second-tier supplier. During the past year, Jackson won new business from several original equipment manufacturers in the electrical and major appliance industries.
Jackson Plastics also received quality certification from Chrys-ler and Toyota.
Jackson said the key to the firm's rapid growth has been his commitment to resources and people.
``I've made a commitment to buy the best equipment; and secondly, I will always develop people from this cadre of ex-IBM executives [whom] I've been fortunate enough to get to help train younger people in the organization and bring them along.''
Jackson employs 20 and offers assembly capabilities and mold maintenance, and is preparing for ISO 9000 certification by the end of 1997.
Jackson is excited about the plastics industry and the pros-pects it offers for long-term growth. He believes his success will continue.
``As long as you keep up with technology and understand the trends, and stay at least a step ahead of what's coming down the road, you should be able to sustain yourself,'' he said.