Cleveland— Saint-Gobain SA's Performance Plastics unit isn't moving far for its new home.
The division will renovate a 53,000-square-foot building in Solon, about seven miles away from its current headquarters in Aurora, Ohio. It anticipates occupying the facility sometime in January or February.
The firm secured a grant under Solon's Jobs Creation Program.
The unit will be able to consolidate two other functional units in nearby Streetsboro and Hudson, Ohio, into one location and combine 116 employees under one roof — 68 from the Aurora location and 48 from the combined shared services facilities.
“Over the last eight years or so, we've almost doubled in size as far as the global business, and we've basically run out of space,” Performance Plastics President Thomas Kinisky said at the firm's Manufacturing Forum in Cleveland on Nov. 5. “We took a look around and decided on staying in this area. That was the No. 1 thing. We were able to do that.”
The building is more than double the size of its current 21,200-square-foot headquarters. Kinisky said Performance Plastics has added 11 employees since November 2013 and expects to add about 20 more within the next three years.
“We have no place to put people now, and we have a plan to hire more in 2016,” he said. “We have no choice — we literally have no places for people to sit right now.”
Kinisky said the new headquarters will have a larger product display area with larger conference rooms for customers to see Saint-Gobain's capabilities. The firm also will be able to host larger customer events.
“We're hoping to have a completely different work environment for our employees,” he said. “The building we're in now is 1970s style, and we hadn't had a chance to make those renovations. Now we're getting a chance to do those things we always wanted to do.”
Even though Solon and Aurora are only about 20 minutes apart, Kinisky said the firm would have liked to stay in Aurora but could not find any buildings available that fit its requirements.
“We wanted to renovate an existing building,” he said. “We didn't want to build from the beginning because that would take too long, and we were going to outgrow our building faster than waiting for a brand new building. We never looked at the idea of building a make-to-suit building from scratch. When we started to look at buildings that were 50,000 square feet, there just weren't any in Aurora. It came down to the availability of space.
“Northeast Ohio is the birthplace of the rubber industry. We want to have a presence here. Keeping the headquarters here and growing here is a very positive thing.”
A growing unit
The Performance Plastics division is growing, and not just in Northeast Ohio, though it also has added 14 jobs at its facility in Akron since November 2013.
Kinisky said in an earlier interview that Performance Plastics is one of the faster growing divisions within Saint-Gobain's Innovative Materials sector — which accounted for about 22 percent of the group's $55 billion sales in 2014.
From 2008-2014, Performance Plastics has had an average annual growth rate of 7.5 percent, according to the executive, and it is in the middle of making a number of investments worldwide.
It's expanding its manufacturing facility in Portage, Wis., with an $11 million investment projected to be complete in mid-2016. The project will add 48,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehousing space and create 42 jobs.
The division also is in the middle of expanding facilities in New York, Germany and France, and it recently opened a new facility in Indonesia for its bearings business, all within the last fiscal year.
Performance Plastics also is collaborating with Argos Therapeutics Inc. in a joint development agreement on a new manufacturing facility to design, integrate and scale production of a range of disposables for use in cancer research. Kinisky said the firm expects production to start in the first half of 2016.
Argos is a biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing fully personalized immunotherapies to treat cancer and infectious diseases using biological components from each patient to activate an immune response specific to the patient's disease.
“Before they can get final approval for their approach, and they're in the final phases of that, they have to have the manufacturing processes ready and defined,” Kinisky said. “We're building a plant in Maryland to be ready for when they get the final approval. We know that this approach, this individualized cell therapy process, will be in existence. So while we're betting on this one company, we're convinced this is going to be part of the future of medicine.”
Focus on future
Saint-Gobain is celebrating its 350th anniversary with events held all around the world. Its flagship event is a touring exhibit that visited all four major regions of the globe. Future Sensations was free to the public and made stops in Shanghai in January, São Paulo in March, Philadelphia in May/June and Paris in October.
The exhibit was a chance for the $55 billion firm — headquartered in Courbevoie, France, just outside of Paris — to showcase its history and innovative products through five pavilions. Each of the five pavilions used a total of 26 products from Saint-Gobain and its subsidiaries in its construction.
Kinisky wanted the Performance Plastics employees in Northeast Ohio to share in the event, which is why the firm hosted a Manufacturing Executive Forum.
“The Philadelphia event was nice, but it was sort of removed from the plastics customers,” he said. “We wanted to have an event to celebrate the longevity of Saint-Gobain, which I believe is due to innovation, adapting to change and our company values.
“I wanted to have a learning event for our customers and our suppliers, our friends in Northeast Ohio, and our employees.
“It's a little bit of a celebration, but it's also a recognition that we have to continue in order to survive the next 350 years. Saint-Gobain has 1,000 people in Northeast Ohio, but most people who aren't employees don't know us. So we wanted to generate some name recognition in Northeast Ohio. We're part of the community, and we wanted to be a more visible part of it.”
The event was designed to be a learning experience for manufacturing industry leaders that will shape the future of the industry in Northeast Ohio. Topics included — What the Future Holds, Building Capability, Content Marketing in the B2B World, Big Data and the Internet of Things and Manufacturing Employees of the Future.
Kinisky said one of the challenges the industry faces in the next five to 10 years is replacing a lot of experience that will be retiring during that span with the next generation.
“We have to find that next generation of manufacturing employees,” he said. “Manufacturing is not at the forefront of people's mind as to where they want to go work, and we need to make it that.
“We have a challenge as a manufacturing industry to make manufacturing a place where people want to come and work. That goes all the way from people graduating from high school who want to start as an hourly employee all the way to trained engineers.”