Cascade Engineering Inc., winner of the 2001 Plastics News Processor of the Year Award, is like chicken soup for the soul right now, in these difficult times. Need a spiritual lift? This injection molding company from Grand Rapids, Mich., can provide one.
Fred Keller says all the right things about employee involvement, about quality and pushing the envelope of molding technology. But actions are what count. Under Keller, Cascade, a $170 million molder, has become a recognized leader in the long and complex struggle to move people from welfare to work. Cascade also is a pioneer in using green energy like wind and solar power. Those good works get Cascade mentioned in the same breath as some well-known Fortune 500 companies.
Cascade Engineering is a role model for other plastics companies. Employees and customers are lucky: Keller owns the company, so he's not driven by shareholder demands to increase value. He can do it his way, and his values don't have to be about making the most profit.
Obviously, other companies are not in that enviable a position. Even so, Keller's ideas deserve a wider audience than the state of Michigan, or even the automotive plastics sector, which accounts for 60 percent of Cascade's sales. The company's strategy — to put major resources into developing its own line of proprietary products — will bear close watching; other custom molders may want to consider it to offset business lost as customers move to Mexico, China and other low-wage regions.
Keller clearly has a good heart when it comes to social issues. But there's a practical side, too. These efforts — helping get folks off welfare, funding local school programs — create loyal and dedicated employees. That translates into better products and more-satisfied customers.
Another interesting thing to watch in Grand Rapids is the transition of leadership to Michael Valz, who joined Cascade and was named president last year. Valz, a veteran of much-larger companies such as General Motors Corp. and Herman Miller Inc., now handles day-to-day operations.
Valz relishes the chance to lead a midsize company — yes, one with bedrock values, but one with a willingness to change and grow.
All companies serve both a commercial and social need by providing products and services and giving people jobs. Cascade sets the social bar higher than most manufacturers, an attitude made even more honorable since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and economic problems facing the United States.
To win the award, Cascade beat out 28 nominees, including three other finalists: Grote Industries Inc., a manufacturer of safety lights for the heavy trucking industry based in Madison, Ind.; Inland Technologies Inc., a small medical-parts injection molding company in Fontana, Calif.; and electronic enclosures giant Trend Technologies Inc. in San Jose, Calif. Congratulations to each of these strong contenders. We hope you try next year.
The winner was announced Nov. 14 during Plastics News' Plastics Encounter Atlanta trade show. An editorial committee from the newspaper runs the judging. We look at seven criteria: financial performance, quality, customer relations, employee relations, environmental contributions, public service and innovation.
We thank all 28 participants — and the people who nominated them.
Cascade joins a list of prestigious past winners, including Tessy Plastics Corp. of Elbridge, N.Y.; Royal Group Technologies Ltd. of Woodbridge, Ontario; Courtesy Corp. of Buffalo Grove, Ill.; Nypro Inc. of Clinton, Mass.; and Bryan Custom Plastics of Bryan, Ohio, now owned by Plastech Engineered Products Inc. in Dearborn, Mich.