Though a levy failed and nearby highways were covered with water, the great Iowa flood of 2008 largely spared the 2,124 inhabitants of Wapello, home to custom thermoformer Grimm Bros. Plastics Corp.
Upstream on the Iowa River, waters inundated the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. Downriver, the deluge all but erased Oakville, population 439. Some preliminary estimates foresee the bill for damages statewide topping $2 billion.
In a time of crisis, Grimm stepped up. As the waters rose, in between shifts at the plant, workers filled sandbags to keep the river at bay, Chief Executive Officer Brent Dobbs said in an Aug. 26 telephone interview. For some, the effort was in vain.
``We had three [employees] who lost their homes due to the flooding,'' Dobbs said. ``Because of the situation with the roads, we went a couple of weeks there where we had employees who had to drive 130 miles to work, instead of just down the road.''
The company's 100,000-square-foot plant is on land west of the river, which crested June 13 in Wapello at 32 feet which is 12 feet above flood stage. From mid-June through July, the American Red Cross set up a staging area for flood relief efforts on 4 acres of land Grimm donated several years ago to the local Solid Rock Baptist Church.
The flood arrived a mere two months after Grimm finished a five-month capital expansion, which included growing the plant's footprint from 85,000 square feet, as well as the purchase of a new Monarch thermoformer and two new five-axis Thermwood routers.
For a company that prides itself on its ``commitment to Midwestern values and Christian virtue'' so much so that they're proclaimed as dogma on the corporate Web site there was no hesitation to get involved in battling the record-breaking flood.
``As I look back over what's taken place with our company, we've really had blessings from God. There has been one thing after other that was beyond our control. We have been tremendously blessed by the hand of God,'' President Curt Grimm said in an Aug. 26 telephone interview.
He said extending help to needy neighbors follows the company's 23-year tradition.
``We have made commitments to customers and carried that through even when that cost us money,'' Grimm said. ``That did not change when the flood came.''
Now that the waters have receded, it's back to normal at Grimm, which serves the medical, food and beverage, recreational and off-road equipment markets.
While resin, power and transportation costs are as much of a concern for the company as there are industrywide, Dobbs said, sales are up 25 percent over last year. The company does not disclose sales figures, but Plastics News estimated 2007 sales at $9.4 million in its annual ranking of North American thermoformers.
``We're not directly linked to the automotive industry, which helps,'' Dobbs said. ``We have some customers that ship overseas, so that helps, because of the low value of the dollar early in the year. We're in health [medical devices], which has had no slowdown, so that helped.''
Dobbs said ``management of efficiencies'' at the 100-person firm have helped keep costs down. Since 2001, Grimm has worked under the Japanese kaizen system that allows small groups, or cells, of employees to identify workplace problems and solutions.
The company has three cells in place and plans to form two more this fall, to produce small batches of parts more efficiently for its customers.