Plastic lumber manufacturer Earthwise Plastics Inc. will invest $4.5 million to buy and renovate a 189,000-square-foot factory in Gas City, Ind., as part of a plan to expand its product offering and storage space.
Increased demand for semi-trailer scuff liners made of high density polyethylene is driving growth for Earthwise Plastics, which currently operates out of a 50,000-square-foot facility that it shares with a subsidiary of Millwright Riggers Inc. called J Handle in Marion, Ind.
Scuff liners protect the inside of truck trailers from forklift punctures when cargo is loaded and unloaded. Sales are up at Earthwise Plastics because a similar-sized competitor went out of business and the semi-trailer industry has been experiencing growth, Andy Miller, vice president of finance, said in a telephone interview.
“We sell miles and miles of scuff liners every year,” Miller said, adding that customers include original equipment manufacturers and after-market dealers.
Plastic lumber for marine applications, such as piers and dock bumpers, also is a growing part of the business and those products will be manufactured at the new site.
“That's a huge market that we're in a little bit right now but we will use some of the room in our new facility to add some lines dedicated to marine,” Miller said. “The sales team is working every day to expand that market for us. That's a good diversification, too, because the trucking industry, like almost all markets, cycles.”
Earthwise Plastics currently has 45 employees and nine extrusion lines but Miller said a 10th line will be installed at its future home, which is less than 10 miles away. The company also will hire another five to seven employees. Production should start in the second quarter of 2017.
The 6-year-old business also is a distributor of outdoor furniture made of recycled HDPE and company officials would like to manufacture those products, too, one day, Miller said.
For the near future, however, the to-do list includes building three silos for raw materials, upgrading the electrical system to power the extrusion lines, and preparing the storage space.
“We have grown so much in this building, we use about 40,000 square feet of outdoor storage,” Miller said. “Right away, we're going to use half of the new building to store our finished product inside.”
Company officials expect to receive a 10-year graduated property tax break as an incentive for locating in Gas City, where the factory has been idle for about two years.
The facility has somewhat of a troubled past. Two previous tenants, neither involved in plastics, ended up in bankruptcy.
“I don't know the details but it's not a happy story because the city and county lost money on the deal,” Miller said. “We were fortunate for it to be available when we need it.”