Sonoco Products Co. is spending $25 million to $30 million to add film and bag-making capacity at its North Vernon, Ind., plant. In April the plant will begin boosting capacity for high-molecular-weight high density polyethylene T-shirt bags by more than 2 billion bags a year, said Rex Varn, vice president of manufacturing for Sonoco's high density film products division. The project will take three to six months to complete.
The expansion marks Sonoco's second big growth spurt for bags in two years. Last year it added total capacity for 2 billion more bags a year at three other plants: Olive, N.C.; Santa Maria, Calif.; and Milesburg, Pa.
The multimillion-dollar investment at North Vernon includes an undisclosed number of new extruders, several bag-making machines, equipment upgrades and a building addition at the plant, Varn said.
That 9-year-old operation, which now employs more than 200, also plans to hire new workers, though not ``in significant numbers,'' he said. The state is helping the firm out with a worker training grant, and the city and county with tax breaks on the cost of the expansion, he said by telephone from division headquarters in Hartsville, S.C.
``Our goal is that we want to remain the industry leaders,'' Varn said, noting that demand from grocery and retail markets prompted the firm to increase bag capacity.
Sonoco, which claims to be the largest producer of HDPE T-shirt bags, had film sales of about $245 million last year, putting it 12th in Plastics News' ranking of North American film manufacturers. Ronald E. Holley heads the division as vice president. Sonoco's corporate sales are $2.7 billion.