The owner of Erie Plastics Co., a Corry, Pa., packaging molder, is asking for help from its union workers and the government to move to a much larger, vacant industrial building in Corry. If that help pans out, Erie Plastics could be operating in a 480,000-square-foot building in a year. If it does not, the 375-employee company could move away from Corry, or even out of Pennsylvania, according to a news release the molder issued June 20.
Paul Roche, Erie Plastics president, said it would cost about $8 million to renovate the former Corry Hiebert office furniture factory for an injection molding plant. He wants the Corry Redevelopment Authority to acquire the building, issue bonds and lease it back to Erie Plastics.
Erie Plastics currently occupies a 180,000-square-foot building in Corry.
Roche said the company has signed a contract to buy the building, contingent upon three things: favorable results from environmental studies, a longer union contract and ``a complete financing and development package'' from Corry, Erie County and Pennsylvania.
If that does not happen, the company's options include relocating some operations to a new technology park at Penn State University at Erie, Pa., moving the company to another city in Erie County or elsewhere in Pennsyl-vania, relocating to another state or acquiring another company with suitable facilities. In April, the firm announced it was opening a division in Westborough, Mass., to be closer to Gillette Co., a major customer.
Losing Erie Plastics would be a blow to the town of 7,200 people in northwestern Pennsylvania, where the molder is a major employer. But that seemed unlikely in the first few days after the announcement.
The June 20 announcement, which was picked up in the local media, did not surprise area officials because they knew in advance.
``We will try to do everything we can to keep them here,'' said Robert Grice, city administrator.
Richard Novotny, development specialist at the Corry Redevel-opment Authority, and the company have been talking about government help for about a month, he said.
``They're a great asset to the community, they really are, and we'll do whatever it takes to keep them here,'' Novotny said. ``Roche is a very, very community-minded person.''
Novotny said the scenario of CRA leasing the plant to Erie Plastics is one possibility.
``There are numerous ways to finance this project. What I'm looking for is the one that is going to do the best for the bottom line of Erie Plastics and ensure that we can attract the capital to finance the project,'' he said.
``Remaining in Corry and making this expansion is our first choice,'' Roche said.
``More and more people are going to leasing because it keeps you from tying your capital up for real estate and buildings,'' Roche said. ``We want to use our capital for molding equipment.''
The roots of Erie Plastics run deep in Erie County, an area with one of the highest concentrations of plastics processing in the United States. The firm was founded in an old roller skating rink in 1960 by Roche's father, Paul Roche Sr., and William Hayes.
When Hayes died in 1981, the Roche family acquired sole ownership of the company. Paul Roche Sr. has since retired.
Erie Plastics changed focus, slashing its customer base to focus on high-volume packaging such as closures and containers. Its biggest customers are Procter & Gamble Co. and Gillette.
In 1991, Paul Jr. bought out the ownership stakes of his brothers, Tom and Bill, to become sole owner. The company was a major financial backer of Plastics Technology Center at the Penn State Erie campus. Visitors to the center enter Roche Hall, a two-story atrium that connects buildings in the 55,000-square-foot complex.
After several expansions, Erie Plastics today occupies 180,000 square feet of space in Corry. The city renamed the street leading to the factory Plastic Road.
Novotny said plant closings and layoffs sent Corry reeling in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Corry was named a state enterprise zone, allowing tax breaks for business expansion. A state-supported business incubator program also has helped, he said.
The $8 million price tag to renovate the Corry Hiebert facility includes updating the electrical system, air conditioning, adding resin silos and cooling towers and other auxiliary equipment - but does not include money for new injection molding machines, Roche said.
Roche said the biggest immediate need is at least 50,000 square feet of space for an ``advanced manufacturing'' center to set up and test large projects, which then would be integrated into the headquarters plant in Corry or the new Massachusetts plant.
He also wants a longer contract with Local 681 of the International Union of Electrical Workers. The current three-year pact expires Sept. 1. He said the firm is not asking for concessions.
An IUE official in the Pittsburgh regional office did not return telephone calls.
Erie Plastics was 94th in Plastics News' 1996 ranking of North American injection molders, with $46.1 million in sales.