Chicago — The opening of Charter NEX Films Inc.'s greenfield plant in Blythewood, S.C., could be just the first of its kind for the company.
The Milton, Wis.-based film maker is beginning operations in Blythewood with one manufacturing line, but expects to have a second installed and running sometime in the first quarter of 2019, according to CEO Kathy Bolhous.
Charter NEX has grown over the years through acquisition and organic growth, but this is the first time the company has constructed a new greenfield facility. The project cost $85 million.
"We had identified roughly two years ago that we were going to be out of capacity, so our options were doing a brownfield or a greenfield," Bolhous said.
Charter NEX, up until now, has relied on existing space at its six facilities to expand.
Blythewood is part of Charter NEX's strategy of adding or replacing six to eight new extrusion lines each year, she said, "which is significantly above what I would consider to be the average of a film company to add."
Charter NEX initially hired about 20 workers for Blythewood, sending them to other company locations to learn about film extrusion.
"We hired our hourly workforce six months ago," Bolhous said in an interview at Pack Expo in Chicago. "And they have been cross-training in our other six plants in order to learn film making. We also will be sending some of our most experienced operators on temporary assignments to Blythewood to work hand-in-hand with operators there."
The company expects to create about 110 new jobs by 2020 in Blythewood. Hiring that many people months before the film plant was even finished is unusual in the industry, the CEO said. But that kind of investment is what helps Charter NEX differentiate itself in the market, she said.
"It's not typical at all. It's a lot of expense. We're bringing a whole new workforce in. We are flying them around the country. We are investing heavily in that workforce," Bolhous said.
Charter NEX has been able to generate growth over the years by emphasizing quality, Bolhous said.
"We maintain our equipment to world-class standards. We continue to make very aggressive investments every year to add capacity with state-of-the-art equipment, which allows us to maintain this quality performance. But it's also ingrained in our culture, how we train our people, how we design and develop our film and how we maintain our plants," she said.
Even with room for 14 extrusion lines in Blythewood, Bolhous expects the company will need to have another new location up and running within three years as the company continues to grow. Beyond that, she hopes the trend will continue.
"It comes back to our core. What we do is make film. That's all we do. One hundred percent every day. We wake up and think about how do we make the best film, more efficiently with better quality than our competition," Bolhous said.
Production is scheduled to begin Nov. 12, and company officials will hold a grand opening event at the site Nov. 15.