Recycling effort brings kudos for new company

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Person County’s newest employer is already making its mark.

Polywood announced in November, 2018 its plans to operate a manufacturing facility in the former Collins & Aikman plant on Jim Thorpe Highway. By March, the first lines of production began and in June, the company’s recycling efforts were recognized by a trade industry group.

Polywood was one of 15 companies from around the country – and the only winner in North Carolina – of the CiCi Award, an honor given out by a group called Trade and Industry Development.

The awards recognize companies for their impact on the local community. In many cases, the companies recognized earned the achievement because of their financial commitment to the community through expansion or relocation.

But Polywood was also recognized for its efforts to promote recycling.

Dave Grider, the plant manager for Polywood’s facility in Roxboro, said the recognition is a reflection of the work of all 50 people already employed by the company in Roxboro. “It really creates a sense of pride. If you look at where we were in November and again today, we’ve already done a lot.

Polywood produces indoor and outdoor furnishings from recycled plastic. When architects first designed how the space in the 430,000-square foot building would be used, a portion of the space – about 40,000 square feet – was set aside for taking in recycled goods that would then be shipped to the company’s headquarters in Indiana for processing. There it would be turned into a synthetic wood and returned to the manufacturing site in Roxboro.

But as Grider got to know the Roxboro community, he realized Person County was already highly committed to recycling through the Person County Recycling Center. He met with county officials and with representatives of the N.C. Department of Commerce to work out an arrangement that will allow Person Industries to increase its recycling program and provide Polywood with some of the raw materials it needs to produce its products. That means Grider is able to use that space for increased manufacturing capacity.

“We realized they were already doing this and they had the space to do it. We will be able to help them with some capital needs to expand their operation. It’s really a win-win-win,” Grider said. The third win involves the residents of Person County. Grider is hopeful that the expanded capacity at Person Recycling will encourage more people to recycle.

That potential has others in the county thinking more about recycling too. The city of Roxboro, which shut down its recycling program a few years ago because of a lack of participation, is considering a plan to offer the service to residents again.

Grider is also working with the state Department of Environmental Quality to see if there are options to set up similar recycling centers in other locations throughout the state.

The expansion of the local recycling operation is also good for clients of Person Industries, who fill many of the positions at the Recycling Center. “That’s a great population of people. They are very serious about their work and they are friendly to everyone they meet. We’re glad to work with them and the hope is this will ensure their jobs for a long time to come,” Grider said.

Still growing

While the award was a nice feather in their cap, Grider is busy these days ramping up the manufacturing facility. While production has started on a limited basis, there’s still more to do. Four large machines – Grider calls them CNC machines – are pre-programmed with directions for cutting the wood that will make the products, from Adirondack-style chairs and end tables to larger tables suitable for kitchens, bar tables, stools and other pieces of furniture. The machines sit on one side of a “pod” where four workers operate the machine and put the parts together to make the finished product. Large television screens display the order each team is filling so they know how to program the machine and how many of each piece of furniture to make.

Every few weeks new machines arrive and are installed. When the plant is at full capacity, there will be about 45 of those machines.

In the back of the building, shelving is already going up in the warehouse to house the finished product until it’s ready for shipment. When it’s all installed, there will be more than 9,000 shelving units, each three shelves high. Warehouse workers will use small hand-held devices that look like a cell phone to get orders and pick the necessary boxes from the correct shelves.

A warehouse system Grider devised is intended to minimize incorrectly filled orders. Workers use a very simple, low-tech cone system to mark orders ready to be delivered.

Once the plant is at full operation, Grider said space in the former C&A building will be maxed out. He’s already looking at plans to expand the facility. There’s plenty of space to do so. The L-shaped building has a natural space set aside to add on to. If that’s not enough, the facility sits on a 212-acre tract that offers plenty of room to grow.

And, maybe, collect a few more awards along the way.

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