Uniek Inc. is closing an extrusion factory in Greenwood, Miss., and moving the equipment to its main plant in Waunakee, Wis.
With the move, 250 Mississippi workers will lose their jobs during the next several months, while 175 jobs will be added in Wisconsin, according to Larry Walker, president and chief executive officer of Uniek.
The Waunakee plant also will more than double its extrusion lines, thanks to equipment being moved from Greenwood. The Waunakee plant now has 10 lines; it will add 12 more Davis Standard 21/2-inch machines.
Uniek bought the Greenwood plant in October during the bankruptcy proceedings of National Picture & Frame Co..
The purchase "puts us at a strong No. 2 in the picture frame market," Walker said. "We have a very aggressive strategic growth plan. Part and parcel to that plan is to continue to develop new products and aggressively go after acquisitions within the frame world, specifically in the mass-merchant channel."
Intercraft, a division of Newell Rubbermaid Inc., is the top producer of frames, Walker said. Both companies sell mainly to top mass-market retail chains like Wal-Mart and Target. Uniek consumes all of its own production for its frame-making operations.
Walker estimated the total picture frame market to be about $3 billion at the wholesale level, with plastic frames accounting for 50-60 percent.
He said National was producing 40 million linear feet of extruded frame stock annually, down from about 60 million a few years ago.
"We're walking away from the unprofitable lines," he said.
He said Uniek would like to enhance its value-added capabilities, such as "pasta-on-plastic" processing, in which decorative patterns are embossed on extruded profiles.
National had been a publicly traded company until an equity firm bought the company in 1998 and took it private. National filed for bankruptcy in July. Uniek was one of several firms to bid on National's assets. In October, a bankruptcy judge allowed Uniek to buy National's plant and equipment for less than $16 million.
Walker said Uniek would continue to operate a woodworking plant in Greenwood. The plant gives Uniek a presence in the wood frame market.
Meanwhile, plastics employees at Greenwood will be dismissed gradually during the next several months as the extruders and other machinery are moved to Wisconsin.
Uniek is building a 100,000-square-foot distribution center onto its 144,000-square-foot Waunakee plant to free up space for the new equipment.
The job losses and relocations in Greenwood come after several years of turmoil for National's work force.
National had employed about 450 last year, but most were forced to take days off as the company coped with bankruptcy, according to news reports. Most of the workers had been called back to work in August after the company found new financing. As part of the bankruptcy, all National workers were terminated, but Uniek rehired "virtually all," Walker said, adding that some key plant managers and sales personnel now will be making the move to Wisconsin.
Other workers will receive a severance package, Walker said.
Meanwhile, the Greenwood area is not exactly a hotbed of processing activity. An economic profile report from the U.S. Census bureau indicates only one other plastics processor in Leflore County, which includes Greenwood.
The county also recorded an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent in November 2000, the most recent statistics available.
Now that Uniek is moving plastic operations north, the Greenwood-Laflore Industrial Park soon will have a vacancy to fill. Some of National's former equipment is available, too.
"There are three extruders up for grabs and quite a number of pieces of assembly equipment left in Mississippi either to sell or to haul to the landfill," Walker said.
Donnie Brock, chairman of the Greenwood-Laflore Industrial Board, said the National plant would make an excellent home for a plastics company.
"The plant itself is more than 200,000 square feet and sits on 15-16 acres,9 he said. "National built a new rail spur either into or right next to the plant."
Brock said the Greenwood area lost between 500-600 jobs in the past two years as other industries relocated.
Uniek is owned by Pyle Group of Madison, Wis. Thomas Pyle had been chairman and chief executive officer of Rayovac Corp. before starting his own investment group in 1996.
Uniek also operates eight Milacron injection molding machines ranging from 300-600 tons. The company injection molds craft canvases, which are used as backgrounds for needlepoint crafts.
Uniek's annual sales figures were unavailable.