Uponor North America Inc. plans to heat things up in St. John, New Brunswick, with a new plant dedicated to making hot-water pipe systems.
Uponor subsidiary Wirsbo Co. is building a 65,000-square-foot manufacturing facility to make cross-linked polyethylene tubing for plumbing, radiant floor heating and snow-melting applications, Jim Bjork, Wirsbo general manager, said by telephone.
The plant is scheduled to be running by 1999's first quarter, Bjork said, providing 100 new jobs in St. John over three years.
Wirsbo's products have been in hot demand, with at least 50 percent growth in each of the past three years, Bjork said.
With the growth, the company is squeezed for space at Wirsbo's current factory in Apple Valley, Minn., Bjork said.
``After a number of expansions, we've pretty much run out of room,'' he said. ``So we decided to set up in St. John.''
Space will not be a problem in St. John for a while. There is room at the site to build another 60,000-square-feet beyond the initial plant, Bjork said.
Once the site is fully developed Wirsbo will double its North American production capacity. Uponor would not disclose sales data for the unit.
Wirsbo also was running out of workers in Apple Valley, a suburb of Minneapolis, Bjork said.
``With a 2.5 percent unemployment rate in Minneapolis, you can imagine the difficulties we had in finding good factory workers,'' he said. ``There just is not the selection there used to be.''
New Brunswick, with an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent, has an abundance of highly skilled workers, said Mary Anne Kinley, a spokeswoman with the province's Economic Development and Tourism department.
The province, which is providing an unspecified tax incentive package to Wirsbo, already supports 37 plastics companies with 800 employees, Kinley said.
New Brunswick specifically targets the plastics industry for its economic development efforts.
``Plastics processing is almost the ideal business for us,'' said Frank TenHave, a spokesman with the investment branch of the Economic Development and Tourism department.
Plastics processing is relatively labor-intensive — which helps with New Brunswick's relatively high unemployment — and environmentally friendly, TenHave said. He noted the Province returns the favor with its low operation costs.
Another reason Wirsbo selected St. John from a field of 20 North American candidates is because of favorable utility and transportation rates, Bjork said.
The new Wirsbo site will be used as an eastern Canada and U.S. distribution center. It will be the Uponor family's second Canadian manufacturing location.
The company in February acquired Canadian cross-linked PE pipe maker Plasco Manufacturing Ltd. of Langley, British Columbia. Plasco, which produces its own line of plumbing and heating products, has annual sales of about $10 million, according to an Uponor news release.
Wirsbo, which was founded in Virsbo, Sweden, in 1620, is part of the Hot Water Systems North America unit of Uponor North America. Uponor North America is a subsidiary of Uponor Group of Espoo, Finland, which in turn is a subsidiary of Asko Oyj of Lahti, Finland.
Other Uponor businesses in North America include Uponor ETI of Denver, which makes PVC water, sewer and storm-drain pipe; and Uponor Aldyl of Shawnee, Okla., which produces PE gas-transmission pipe. The group reported $200 million in North American extrusion sales for 1997. Worldwide sales for Uponor topped $800 million.