Even as a fire tore through Robinson Industries Inc. in Coleman, Mich., early March 31, causing extensive damage, the owners were meeting about how to rebuild while continuing operations.
No one was injured in the blaze that was reported at 5:20 a.m. and the cause remains under investigation.
Founded in 1947, Robinson Industries is a family- and women-owned business that employs about 200 people to produce pallets, packing and consumer goods like ice-fishing sleds and drip pans from high density polyethylene, polypropylene and structural foam.
Employees will be paid for a 40-hour week and should plan to apply for unemployment, according to Marketing Manager Ronda Robinson, a third-generation co-owner.
"We are still in meetings and strategizing about how to proceed but rest assured that we are definitely still in business," Robinson posted on Facebook to a question. "We plan to build back stronger and better than before as quickly as possible. We were in meetings about this while the plant was still burning. We do have some machines available for our use while we rebuild."
Robinson Industries serves the automotive, marine and other markets. The website shows Ford- and GM-approved pallets and says the business has 17 thermoforming machines to produce single- and twin-sheet parts and structural foam injection molding capabilities.
Firefighters from several departments were called to the scene, battling heavy black smoke and flames that reached high above the manufacturing plant.
On the Robinson Industries Facebook page, the company also thanked employees and first responders "who went above and beyond to control the fire and get everyone to safety."
Crews worked relentlessly throughout the day to extinguish the fire, according to a Facebook post by the Coleman Community Fire Department, which also sent "our deepest sympathies to Robinson Industries and their employees. They have always been a major supporter of our department and are always very kind to us. You all will be in our thoughts and prayers."
On another Facebook page, a family member asked for thoughts and prayers for Robinson Industries employees who are displaced from their jobs, as well as management working to rebuild.
"Thankfully nobody was hurt. Buildings and machinery can be replaced. All of our information is in the cloud, so it can be retrieved. Competitors have even called and offered wheels to run product. It's just gonna be a process for sure," the post from Justin Mayer stated.
Scott Loose, owner of Loose Plastics Inc., a plastic sheet extrusion company with 120 employees in Gladwin, Mich., put out one of the offers.
"The Loose plastics family is here to help any way we can to help get the Robinson Ind family back up and going again. Our community is strong," Loose posted on the company's Facebook page.
Ronda Robinson's grandparents founded the company, which is marking its 75th anniversary in 2022.
Fred Robinson left Dow Chemical Co. to strike out in the fledgling plastics industry with his wife, Ardis. They started selling artificial polystyrene foam snow out of their basement in 1947 and went on to develop a better refrigerator door for General Electric, produce canoes and coolers, and pioneer advances in thermoformed and injection molded reusable plastic pallets.
With an estimated $30 million in annual sales, Robinson Industries ranks 61st among North American thermoformers, according to Plastics News' latest ranking.
"We want all of our customers and employees to know that we are definitely still in business," the company said. "We are already meeting to first make sure that our customers' needs are met and secondly to begin to rebuild."