GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. — When Preston Jones bought a large ownership share of North American Plastics Corp. in 1997, all he wanted was to build a legacy for himself and his community. "I'm not trying to get rich or build a Taj Mahal," Jones said. "But I want people to see that there are minorities within communities that can establish manufacturing facilities, make them profitable and give something back."
But the profitable part of the equation has caused more headaches than Jones would like. His Grand Rapids-based injection molding company was virtually in bankruptcy when he bought a 55 percent ownership stake.
The company, formerly known as Master Plastics Inc., had a history of cash problems. Annual sales were down to $1.6 million when he came aboard. Business dried up while Jones tried to re-establish credibility with customers.
The struggle continues while Jones shores up business. He scored a major victory in December when the Grand Rapids City Council gave him a six-month extension to pay back taxes. The company has sold off some of its presses to raise cash, but still has 16 machines.
Jones' plight is more the norm for minority-owned businesses than the exception, he said. Most new business owners do not have the deep pockets to buy a strong company. Instead they settle for one they can get for an affordable price.
"You buy into it and hope you make it work," Jones said. "But while you're struggling to get money, the business can take a nose dive."
Some customers have come back to North American Plastics, a maker of grilles and interior parts. The company's sales have risen to about $8.5 million for 1999.
Jones, a Detroit native and 30-year automotive industry veteran, continues to give back. He lets the local Urban League, women's shelters and minority mentoring programs use his facilities free of charge. It is his way of contributing.
The realities of start-up businesses also occupy Hastings Plastics, an injection molder about 30 minutes away from Jones in Hastings, Mich. The company works from a business incubator and hopes to attain sales of $1 million by 2001-02.
President Timothy Jacobs was a press operator and mold setter who always wanted to go into business for himself. Jacobs, a member of the Chippewa Nation, found a partner and went into business in mid-1996.
Now, he has plans to open a new company, Chippewa Automation Inc., that will assist companies in setting up lights-out, robotically driven operations and manufacturing cells. Meanwhile, Hastings Plastics will focus on high-precision custom parts, such as grommets and air-intake sleeves.
Jacobs, 35, knows that growth takes time. But minority status also has helped turn a few heads at nearby companies, including Summit Polymers Inc. of Portage, Mich.
"I wanted to do this, and I made it happen," Jacobs said. "For our company to grow, we had to start somewhere. Minority ownership opens some doors, but you still have to build the business."