Encore Plastics Corp. is shipping orders from its newest injection molding facility in Forsyth, Ga.
The plant, which officially opened May 1, positions the paint sundries and packaging manufacturer close to its Southeastern customers, two of the owners said during an April 14 interview at Encore's Sandusky headquarters.
Timothy Rathbun, Encore's CEO, said a key new market for the company that will be served from the Forsyth plant is pails for transporting hazardous materials. The pails will be approved for United Nations shipping.
As we have grown our pail market penetration, we've seen that so many [customers] need U.N. packaging. I sense that we will have a tremendous reception from the market; nobody wants to go to only one supplier and get all their U.N. [pails], he said.
In addition to the U.N. packaging, the plant's six Husky Hylectric injection molding machines, with clamping forces of 300-500 tons, will produce traditional paint buckets, trays and liners.
The 60,000-square-foot-facility a former Trane Inc. heating and air-conditioning equipment plant sits on 18 acres near Interstate 75. It employs 18 and will grow to 40, Craig Rathbun, Encore's president, said April 14.
Monroe County, Ga., officials originally offered tax incentives to lure Encore into the plant, which the company bought in 2010. But after local officials agreed to build a 1,700-foot rail spur to the site at a cost of about $400,000, Encore agreed to forgo the tax breaks.
I asked them to help us do whatever we could to create jobs, which means creating an environment where we can do business and thrive, Craig Rathbun said. It was a walk around the table and shake hands deal. The people in Georgia couldn't have been more helpful.
In an April 27 telephone call, Craig Rathbun said Encore's total investment in the Forsyth site is about $6.8 million. Part of that is six silos that each can hold 200,000 pounds of resin pellets; Encore also recently increased the number of silos at its primary injection molding plant in Cambridge, Ohio, from 18 to 27.
Encore staff from Cambridge helped get the Forsyth plant up and running, and both factories are producing Encore's newest 5-gallon pails, which feature three separate 11-color, roll-printed outdoor designs, and are geared toward hunters and anglers. The buckets will debut June 1 at a major U.S. sporting goods retailer.
Customers are telling us what they need. If you don't differentiate yourself, you don't get the intangible benefits, Craig Rathbun said.
Encore continues to serve its clients in the West from its injection molding and distribution plant in Clearfield, Utah, and recently introduced 12 new molds for microwaveable thermoformed food trays for restaurant and supermarket take-home food at its thermoforming pant in Remer, Minn.
The firm continues to develop products with regrind and biodegradable material content. Meanwhile, a side business, SUREnergy LLC, which Encore entered into in 2009 with several northern Ohio partners, has become a major endeavor for Tim Rathbun.
SUREnergy which stands for Sustainable Use of Renewable Energy sells, finances and installs wind turbines from 10 kilowatts to 1 megawatt in size. The equipment is supplied by Northern Power Systems of Barre, Vt. Encore, in part, powers its headquarters using a 50-kW windmill located behind the Sandusky office.
SUREnergy, which employs 20, suffered a setback after the Nov. 2 election. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, defeated incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who got state lawmakers in 2008 to pass a comprehensive energy plan that mandates that 25 percent of electricity sold by Ohio utilities must come from alternative energy by 2025.
The law created an alternative energy fund that SUREnergy could tap into to get customers reimbursed for 40 percent of the costs of installing new wind turbines.
[The grants program] was set to expire at the end of December last year, but it was certain to be renewed. But the political winds changed in Columbus [Ohio, the state capital], on Nov. 5 out of the blue, they suspended the program. No advance notice, no warning. And with that, SUREnergy lost about $15 million of booked projects, Tim Rathbun said.
SUREnergy had no choice but to push beyond its original Ohio base into states such as Georgia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, which aggressively support wind energy development projects. Pennsylvania recently awarded the firm a $562,000 grant to install a 750-kW windmill.
In contrast to Ohio, Pennsylvania's grant-writing process was vastly easier, Tim Rathbun said.
[While writing] the very first application in Pennsylvania, I had issues; there was no training, so I did what I could do.
I filed the application at 8 p.m. The very next morning, 9 a.m., I've got the state of Pennsylvania on the [phone] line going over it with me, line by line, to make sure it was perfect, he said.
While it contains scores of cuts across state government, Kasich's 2011-13 budget, introduced March 15, contains provisions that would restore the lost funding for wind energy, so the Rathbuns are hopeful that SUREnergy will continue to sell turbines in Ohio.
Encore and SUREnergy are developing a hybrid power system that gets part of its energy from a Northern Power turbine and part from a photovoltaic solar panel array at Encore's new Georgia plant.
In an April 27 email, Tim Rathbun elaborated on the system:
* It will include a 100-kW Sharp USA solar PV array and a 50-kW Endurance Wind Energy E-3120 wind turbine, expected to generate about 200,000 kilowatt-hours per year over 30 years.
* To offset the $900,000 cost, the company has applied for U.S. Department of Agriculture funding totaling $495,000.
* The state of Georgia has offered an additional 35 percent tax credit to support the project.
For strategic reasons, Encore and SUREnergy recently switched lenders from PNC Financial Services Group Inc. to Wells Fargo & Co. Morgan Stanley and Oppenheimer Holdings also are contributing to SUREnergy's larger projects.
Encore experienced its own setback in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affected the oyster harvest in several Southern states. Only months before, Encore had purchased the oyster cup technology of Independent Can Co. of Belcamp, Md.
We don't make mistakes, Tim Rathbun said jokingly.
We make investments, and we adapt to changing conditions, Craig Rathbun added quickly.
Encore, which employs 250, had sales in 2010 of $36 million. SUREnergy sales were $6 million for the same period. The Rathbun brothers would like to cross the $50 million sales mark for the combined businesses this year, but they are unsure about how raw-materials prices will affect the plastics side of their work.
Encore in 2010 increased by 22 percent in 2010 the pounds of resin it used in 2009, Craig Rathbun said. The company recently contracted with a third resin supplier just to handle that extra amount.
There are a lot of planned [resin production] shutdowns this year, and if we're growing at the rate we're growing, and if there's a hiccup and [suppliers] go force majeure, we can't take 80 percent of what we had last year we'd go out of business, he said.
Materials processed by Encore include PET, polypropylene and polyethylene, all of which have been subject to recent price volatility.