Plastics plant makes honey bear necessities

May 14, 2006|by CANDICE BOSELY

Parker Plastics Inc.'s Hagerstown plant churns out about 100,000 containers a day. The empty bottles are shipped to buyers, who fill them with honey and other products.

In the 1967 movie "The Graduate," an advice-giver tells new college graduate Benjamin Braddock just one word to consider when it came to planning his career: Plastics.

Today, Jim Brown, manager of the Parker Plastics Inc. plant in Hagerstown, believes the field of plastics is just as solid of a career choice.

"I think plastics, for young people, is one of the best fields to get into," Brown, 46, said. "I don't see anything that would take a plastic company out of business."


He should know. He started working for a plastics company when he was 17 and had just finished high school, earning $3.35 an hour for transporting products around the plant.

He now manages the Parker Plastics plant that opened for production about two months ago at 105 Enterprise Lane.

The company makes plastic containers for a variety of products, but is primarily known for making containers that hold honey, including PET containers shaped like bears.

The plant currently employs 15 people, but is expected to grow to 25 to 30 employees in its first year and to 40 employees in five years. Nonskilled employees earn up to $10 an hour, while skilled employees can earn up to $20 an hour, Brown said.

"It's the nonskilled labor that actually runs the plant. We're here basically just to support them," he said.

During a recent tour of the plant, Brown showed off the two machines that transform smaller "pre-forms" - thick pieces of plastic that are about 2 inches long and resemble a baby bottle's top - into the variety of bottles the company produces.

In seconds and by using molds and a high temperature the machines create the containers.

To add a personal touch to the bears, black dots are added.

"We have to put the little faces on them," Brown said.

For that the bears are placed by hand onto a round machine and black markers add the dots.

Throughout the day, bottles are checked to ensure that they are free of any kind of defects, including holes.

Containers that are not deemed suitable cannot be reused for food products, but are sold and recycled into vehicle parts and decking materials, Brown said.

No bottles are filled at the Hagerstown plant. Instead the empty bottles are shipped to buyers and filled with honey and other products elsewhere.

About 100,000 containers can be made a day. Brown said the company is known for its custom blow molding and primarily serves smaller companies.

While production started about two months ago, Brown and another employee, Cheryl Eyler, relocated from the company's Wisconsin plant to Hagerstown to prepare the plant.

Over the winter Brown and Eyler set up an office in the part of the plant that did not have heat and they had to use portable outdoor toilets.

They've since moved to a different part of the building that has heat and air conditioning in the offices and on the production floor. The plant has 40,000 square feet but Brown said he expects to expand to 75,000 square feet.

Other Parker Plastics plants are in Sand Springs, Okla., and Pleasant Prairie, Wis., and both are 75,000 square feet.

Jim Parker, the sole owner of the company, decided to open the Hagerstown plant to serve the East Coast, Brown said.

Hagerstown was chosen over sites in Pennsylvania and in Baltimore because of its proximity to Interstates 70 and 81, Brown said.

Although the labor market is tight, Brown said he couldn't complain about the plant's employees.

"We've found people. And the ones we found are very good," Brown said.

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