Harper Brush Works Inc., a 105-year-old Iowa company still owned by the founding family, has purchased the old Empire Brushes factory in Greenville, N.C., from Newell Rubbermaid Inc. - bringing Harper its first in-house plastic injection molding.
Harper Brush manufactures wood brushes, brooms and other cleaning products at its headquarters plant in Fairfield, Iowa, and a second factory in Stockton, Calif.
President Barry Harper said his company also sells some housewares-type brushes that have plastic handles, but outsources the molding work to custom molders in the United States and other countries, including China, Brazil and Italy. The plastic products include dish and sink brushes, scrub brushes and toilet brushes.
Markets for Harper Brush products include industrial push brooms, floor squeegees, brushes for self-serve car washes and home use, wet and dry mops and accessories and horse-care products. Harper Brush sells products through major retail chains such as Home Depot and Lowe's.
The Greenville factory brings Harper Brush 16 injection molding machines.
``We hope to bring some of that [foreign outsourcing] back to the USA, where it makes sense,'' Harper said in a Jan. 24 telephone interview.
Rubbermaid Inc. bought Empire Brushes Inc. in 1994 from housewares veteran Joe Gantz. Five years later, Rubbermaid itself was gobbled up by Newell Co. The resulting company, Newell Rubbermaid, has embarked on a major restructuring in recent years, moving some production around and closing some plants, including the landmark Rubbermaid factory in Wooster, Ohio.
Last spring, Newell Rubbermaid closed Greenville, which once employed nearly 500. Equipment at the cleaning products plant was to have been auctioned off June 23, but at the last minute, the company pulled it off the block as negotiations began with Harper Brush.
Barry Harper said his company paid $3 million for the Greenville factory and land, in a deal that closed Dec. 30.
Harper Brush expects to employ as many as 250 within three to five years, Barry Harper said. The company has 100 employees in Iowa and 50 in California.
The deal was big news in North Carolina. Gov. Mike Easley held a news conference Jan. 20 at the factory to welcome Harper Brush. The state's One North Carolina Fund awarded the company a $150,000 grant.
Barry Harper said the chance to get in-house molding capacity and hire experienced plastics workers was a key reason to purchase the factory.
The governor's office said the new positions will pay an average of $15 an hour.
Harper said the North Carolina location also gives Harper Brush manufacturing and distribution in the South.
Barry Harper is the grandson of company founder Alphonso Harper, who created a kit of horsehair brushes and founded Harper Brush Works in 1900 - six years before Fuller Brush Co. got into business. He hired a group of college students, who became known as ``Harper Men,'' to make brushes part-time during the school year and then travel during the summer selling the household products from wagons.
Harper Brush began making industrial cleaning tools in 1925.