As employees observe Plymouth Foam Inc.'s 30th year in business, the manufacturer of expanded polystyrene foam and building products has shown it is willing to gamble on a future rebound of the U.S. economy.
The Plymouth, Wis., company, which has plants in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio, recently made a major investment in its operations amid the Appalachian foothills that will result in two 60,000-square-foot Newcomerstown, Ohio, facilities being consolidated into a nearby plant that's almost five times bigger.
As part of a lease/buy arrangement dating back to 2003, Plymouth acquired a vacant 280,000-square-foot former aluminum siding factory about 12 miles northeast of Newcomerstown in Gnadenhutten.
``We wanted to stay within a tight geographical area, because we didn't want to displace our work force,'' David Bolland, Plymouth president and chief operating officer, said during an Oct. 9 ribbon cutting in Gnadenhutten. ``We have a high-quality team and they're a big reason for our success.''
Plymouth has more than 200 employees; about 65 work in Ohio.
Although he did not give specifics, Bolland said the new plant will have machinery supplied by Idro of Italy, Kurtz GmbH of Hasloch, Germany, and Hirsch Maschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG of Glanegg, Austria, that is intended to help the company expand its sales in North America and beyond.
``We just recently had a shipment of product that went to Russia. With the location of the [Ohio] facility, we have a much broader reach,'' Bolland said.
The plant which changed ownership through five decades from Alsco Anaconda Inc. to Atlantic Richfield Co. to BP plc to the Tuscarawas County Port Authority was an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site from the early 1980s to 2001. In partnership with the Ohio Department of Development and the port authority, Plymouth invested in $5 million in renovations to the facility through the state's 166 Direct Loan program.
Plymouth transferred EPS panel cutting in November 2007 from Newcomerstown to Gnadenhutten, and plans to start block molding in Gnadenhutten in the first quarter of 2009 with room for a future shape-molding operation.
Facing about 7 percent unemployment compared to about 6 percent nationally Ohio officials are pleased by Plymouth's decision to remain in the state.
In remarks at the event, port authority Vice Chairman Mike Durban thanked Plymouth for staying in Tuscarawas County despite the move between towns. ``We know you have options; we know every company has options to go anywhere in the world. For you to make a commitment [locally] really means a lot to us,'' he said. ``We look forward to your growth in the marketplace and wish you another 30 or even 60 years.''
Tec and Sarah Roberts founded Plymouth on Aug. 8, 1978. Tec Roberts in 1998 sold the business to his sons Scott and Vance. The brothers ran the firm until Feb. 4, 2005, when they died in a plane crash in Niles, Mich., along with Mike Borzcik, the company's vice president of operations.
Ownership of Plymouth passed to the Roberts brothers' widows, both named Diana. They have stayed on the company's board along with Tec Roberts. Bolland was named president and COO as part of the company's succession plan.
Plymouth's founders didn't start out with what the industry today would recognize as a business plan, Bolland said just a gut feeling about how to build their dream. ``[Tec] knew the EPS industry; he knew how to treat customers and employees and he started prospecting. Scott and Vance continued those values and traditions they inherited from their parents and those are still our guiding principles,'' he said.
Thomas Testwuide, Plymouth chairman and chief executive officer, said at the ribbon cutting that management remains committed to the company's long-term success even amid the ongoing U.S. financial crisis.
``Our packaging team has done a very fine job in building our packaging business, and we think the housing market's going to turn [up] again. The pent-up demand and confusion right now will change,'' he said. ``Remember, Warren Buffet always said, `When people are greedy that's the time to be nervous; when people are nervous, that's the time to be greedy.' I don't like the word greed, but this is the time to expand.''
Bolland said Plymouth is well positioned to weather the economic storm because it's diversified no more than 10 percent of sales come from any one customer. ``We see a lot of opportunity going forward,'' he said. ``We continue to reinvent ourselves and continue to expand the creativity that we feel differentiates us within our markets.''