From a town with fewer than 200 residents that sits on less than a square mile of land, one small plastics business is booming nationwide.
Injection molder and extruder M R Products Inc., also known as Mr. Chain, has invested $4.2 million to expand its operation in the tiny village of Copemish, Mich., about two hours north of Grand Rapids.
The company makes colorful, high density polyethylene chains, stanchions and signs for visual barriers and crowd safety. Though business has begun leveling off, last year the company more than tripled its sales to $9.5 million; it hopes to see at least $8.5 million this year.
The woman-owned company is headed by CEO Maree Russo Mulvoy, daughter of the late Michael Russo, who founded the firm in 1960 as an automotive supplier. Russo held at least 25 patents for his various innovations, and Mulvoy holds eight — "so far," she said in a June 21 phone interview.
Russo devised a way to injection mold plastic chain in continuous lengths while still allowing each link to move freely, though that isn't one of his patented processes, she added.
M R Products attributed its surge in success to increased demand for crowd control and direction products during the COVID-19 pandemic. The chains have been used by hospitals, schools and at vaccination sites in various states. New York City officials used the chains to establish social distancing on buses and to protect transit workers after dozens died.
And now, as factories reopen, employers are putting Mr. Chain products to use as they seek to establish safe environments for their workers, Mulvoy said.
The company is finishing up an expansion that doubles its space to almost 70,000 square feet. Mulvoy said M R Products recently purchased four new injection molding machines — three 220-ton presses and one with 400 tons of clamping force — from Shibaura Machine Co. Ltd. (formerly Toshiba). The purchases give M R Products a total of 18 presses, ranging from a 60-ton Boy to a 500-ton Negri Bossi. The company also purchased a Boston Matthews extrusion line three months ago, doubling its output in that time.
Staff has fluctuated some with the pandemic, but overall it has grown about 40 percent to its current level of 95. That number should be going up in the next year or so, Mulvoy said, as the state just awarded the company a $200,000 challenge grant to hire and train 25 more workers in manufacturing.
"We train those who show potential," Mulvoy said. The company already offers community college courses to its employees and has an apprentice program that has trained workers in injection molding, programmable logic control, maintenance and accounting.