Twenty-six years later, it's definitely a family business.
Porter works with his wife Mavis and two of his sons, and the company has grown to 90 employees and 26 injection molding machines in a factory in Osceola, Wis., about 40 miles east of the Twin Cities. It moved there in 1995.
“Working with my wife and sons is rewarding,” he said. “I didn't found MPP with this in mind but it has evolved into an opportunity for my family to work together.”
Now, Porter's 33-year-old son Joshua, a plastics engineer, is preparing to take the reins.
He came back to MPP two years ago, after working eight years as an engineer for other companies.
Working for others was a requirement Porter had before any of his children would take over MPP.
“I told him at the time [he graduated college] he couldn't work for me until he experienced life in the world outside MPP,” Porter said.
He felt it was very important for his kids to get the perspective of being an employee, and not just work in the family firm. Porter spent 11 years in the plastics industry before starting MPP.
“As a very pragmatic person, I have made it clear to my son that I don't want to have to tell my grandsons that I fired their dad,” he said, half joking.
Porter said he has a “work to live, not live to work” philosophy.
“That is why MPP is a five-day-a week facility, not seven,” he said. “Family always comes first. Most of my friends are coworkers, which I don't think is unusual or atypical, so you don't have to work with family to experience the need to maintain this balance.
“Respect for the individual as a person, not as an employee, is critical,” he said. “When you walk out that work door at night, you are dad, husband or friend, not the boss.”
The transition to the second generation comes at a challenging time. Porter said the volatility in the economy makes it hard to see very far out into the future.
“Look at the last eight years, who could have predicted this present environment?” he said. “[Predicting] five years may even be a stretch.”
Porter said the economy now is better than 2008, he said, but he believes it's still not healed from the deep recession eight years ago. Many of its customers remain cautious.
He contends that small firms like MPP have advantages, though, because they can react quickly. He sees MPP as full of “tough-skinned” people who survived both the 2008 recession and the equally difficult rise of China in manufacturing after 2001.
“Our recession didn't start in ‘08, it started in '02 when all the work went to China,” he said. The company went to four-day work weeks for a time in both 2008 and 2002, he said.
The company has had two growth spurts that required additions to its facility, in 1999 and in 2001, when it bought a local mold making shop.
Now, he believes the company is benefiting from some work returning to the United States, or reshoring.
But MPP is very tied into the global economy. The company bought 70 molds last year from China, Porter said, to maintain competitive prices on MPP's injection molding.
And he's traveled the world and found products made by MPP for his customers.
He's seen MPP-made plastic components in products of their customers in store shelves in Hong Kong, Russia and Europe, and once, on a vacation in Africa, came across a bartender using a metered liquor pouring device made by MPP for one of its clients.
It was a nice feeling, he said, “for an old guy born in the cornpatch.”