Woodville, Wis. — Comar LLC may be one of the fastest-growing plastics processors in the world in the past two years, opening multiple plants, moving into larger spaces and closing on some major acquisitions.
But even while it's been growing, the company has focused on training, retaining workers, adding staff and keeping workers safe. For the effort, the Voorhees, N.J.-based company was a repeat finalist for the Plastics News Processor of the Year award and the winner of the PN Excellence Award for Employee Relations.
"It's been a busy year. We launched three plants, and 2021 was all about getting them finalized, moving in equipment, and we knew it was going to be a lot of work. And it was more work than we ever imagined," CEO Michael Ruggieri said in a recent interview at the company's Woodville plant.
"We moved 150 machines and like 350 molds. And it's just staggering, the amount of work that the organization had to do to move machines, qualify molds, revalidate molds with our medical customers and pharma customers; it was intense.
"But we're over that hump, which feels really good. And you know what I've been talking about with the organization, in 2022, we now have to make this pivot from investing to optimizing those investments. So it took a lot of organizational calories to move all of that equipment and get plants stood up, hire a bunch of people. So now we've got to kind of get back on really driving the continuous improvement," he said.
The biggest hurdle was hiring and retaining people, he said.
"The churn of the workforce is like nothing I've ever experienced. And it's extraordinarily painful. And we felt that with contractors that couldn't get enough people, we feel that with us not getting enough people, we feel that with our suppliers, not getting enough people and not getting us product. So I think that the broad labor challenge was our No. 1 issue and continues to be our No. 1 issue," Ruggieri said.
"So 2021 was a great year in terms of the things that we accomplished," he said. "It was a really great year, but it was painful."
After a year where it was difficult to do traditional team-building events, things were back to normal — at least somewhat — in 2021.