An inferno raging for hours and fueled by volatile chemicals and paper destroyed all of Technicote, Inc.’s offices and most of its manufacturing space on Dec. 16, 2011. At one point the front of the building collapsed, sending flames 100 feet into the air, the glow of which could be seen from miles away during the early a.m. fire. Four units from multiple fire departments responded, spraying a thousand gallons of water a minute for more than two hours, including keeping nearby American and Ohio flags wet so they would not catch fire.
A spark ignited a cleaning solvent during a procedure routinely performed, but the catastrophic fire, more than a year ago, forced the company, located on Marc Drive into a tough decision…relocate or rebuild. Thanks to incentives by Cuyahoga Falls City Hall and some quirks of the economy in 2012, they stayed.
Established in 1980 to service local roll converters, Technicote manufactures custom pressure sensitive label products, including a line of waterproof wine bottle labels. Rolls of label stock are cut down and rewound into smaller rolls for the printing companies to work with. It has grown to include 10 manufacturing and distribution facilities throughout the US and Mexico. According to Judson Waters, director of operations, the new facility includes an improved process flow throughout the plant as well as new state-of-the-art adhesive and silicone coaters and new web splitters.
“If we had lost everything, the decision to stay here might have been different,” Waters said. “The fact that some of this equipment stayed intact and was able to be run was a huge reason to want to stay and rebuild.”
Waters said one of their options was to move the prodyct they were running into other facilities.
“One result would have been ‘Do we just invest in our facilities elsewhere?’ That doesn’t necessarily make sense since we do have distribution out of this part of the country that we would lose. Probably the next best thing we looked at was, ‘This area is important to us, it’s a good distribution area, but, there is nothing necessarily sacred about Cuyahoga Falls,” Waters said. The company started looking at surrounding counties for existing buildings to purchase and there was not a lot available.
“Probably, if the fire had happened six to nine months earlier, there would have been a different outcome because there was much less property for sale than we thought we were going to run into. People had stopped building back in 2007, 2008 and they haven’t started building again – so there is no surplus of buildings now and a year ago there was. We could have made some better deals and had more options to look at if the fire had happened earlier,” he added.
Technicote rented 10,000 square feet on Home Avenue in Akron and had equipment installed there and running in January of 2012. Since it’s choices for relocating were limited, the company contacted a builder who told them what could be done for them and the price, but what was key was the builder assured them they could do it in four months.
“We started installing coating lines the week after Labor Day / the first of October,” Waters explained. “We had it up and running by the first of November.” The original coating line the company started with in 1980 was destroyed in the fire.
During a brief ribbon cutting ceremony dedicating the new facility recently, company president, Doug O’Connell, emphasized that all 40 employees before the fire were retained, including about 30 who went to Terre Haute, Ind., to work at the company’s facility there for several months at a time, at the company’s expense. After the ribbon cutting O’Connell said, “There’s no question – it was a strain on the employees who ended up commuting from here to Terre Haute for anywhere from a month or more at a time. We picked up all the additional expense, costs like rental cars, hotel costs, the meals, all that. It’s a long [7 hour] commute and being away from the family, it was tough. But we have a really great workforce that’s very dedicated and I think we showed our dedication by picking up all the additional expenses and making sure we did not fire a single person as a result of this fire.”
O’Connell went on to say, “We rebuilt here in stages – so as we got more equipment in here, in the facility we were renting, we would pull back more employees to this location. So in September, there were only a couple of guys, 4 or 5 at the last that were still there.”
Cuyahoga Falls mayor Don Robart was on hand for the ribbon cutting and when asked if the city offered any incentives to stay, said, “We did. We worked closely with them to be competitive with anywhere else that they may have thought of moving. Because we knew that it would be a dog fight we definitely offered incentives. But they were so good to work with, it wasn’t a tough fit for us.” Asked if the city was grateful that they stayed, Robart replied, “Very grateful.”
In a prepared statement, Cuyahoga Falls Development Director Susan Truby said the project was a collaboration with the city and county and the Greater Akron Chamber and “proof that public-private partnerships work. It’s not just about a project; it’s about the people and our community.”
Asked how his company was doing as a result of the Great Recession, O’Connell said, “Our business, like many people in the label business, it goes with the economy. So 2012 was not a good year for many of us. As say, 2011 was. As far as how the business is doing, we’re doing well. The fire was a real challenge for us, but we’re coming out of this stronger and better than ever. So I think, overall we’re doing real well. [After the fire] it was really in tough shape, but, praise the Lord, nobody was injured and all the fire departments did a great job salvaging a portion of the building. About 75% of the plant was destroyed – so we were able to salvage a portion of the building and that ran the whole time once we got things cleared away,” he concluded.
When asked what changes were made as a result of the fire, Waters said, “We’ve since eliminated those cleaning solvents, we don’t use as volatile of a liquid anymore, everything is grounded.” Asked if the company addressed the issues to prevent that type of thing from happening again, he said, “In fact, in all of our plants we have now eliminated all of the combustibles. All of the adhesives are water-based. We didn’t have a sprinkler system – this is all sprinkled now. The product storage racks have slotted shelves so water will flow down them all the way to the floor. We had people come in and identify how many extinguishers we need and where they need to be.”
As to their future plans, Waters said, “We built this with the notion that we can add…there is a lot of area / space out there that we have open. We built the plant so we could put two more coating lines in and we can put at least two more slitters in if we choose to. We’re no different than anyone else, we have a market, we have demand – the economy drives that. We produce labels that go on objects – objects are sales. Those are things and items that people buy – so if people aren’t buying things – those transactions aren’t occurring – there’s no labeling taking place. So, like anybody else, we would benefit with growth. If the economy would improve. Otherwise, it’s ‘What can we build from existing customers that we don’t currently have,’ which is basically taking them from the competition. So our focus right now, for 2013, is to get back up capacity-wise. We got the capacity, now we need to focus back in on quality improvement – continuous improvement of our process to eliminate and reduce scrap and costs – all those types of things, so we can pass those benefits along to the customers to get more market share. That’s what will drive increased hiring for us. Obviously, it’s more volume.”
Technicote plans to add 12 jobs if business does well. For more information on the company and its products visit: www.technicote.com.