PGI grows with constant innovation

WAYNESBORO, Sep 11, 2010 (The News Virginian – McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) —

In an business driven by fast-paced innovation and new technology, Polymer Group, Inc. is gaining ground, industry experts say.

Constant, highly technical innovation is what’s allowing the company to grow while other manufacturing production businesses in the United States are shrinking, said Ian Butler, director of market research for the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry.

“The technology world wide is growing like crazy,” he said. “New technologies as they come out rapidly replace older technologies. One from five years ago would be totally obsolete now.”

Introducing a new, state-of-the-art spunmelt machine line for producing nonwoven products spurred the $65-million expansion on which PGI broke ground Friday in Waynesboro, said Veronica Hagen, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company’s chief executive officer.

“This is a long-term investment for us,” Hagen said. “It means 40 or 50 jobs today, but it also means securing all of the other jobs in that factory.”

Hagen credited state and local economic development players for encouraging the company to choose Waynesboro over its Mooresville, N.C. site for the expansion. Mooresville is a short distance from the company’s Charlotte headquarters.

“I’ve got to say, you had some stiff competition,” Hagen said. “It wasn’t just about financial incentives, which usually make headlines, but was much bigger and broader than that. It was the process here in Virginia and the city that really brought the constituents together as a team. That really swayed our decision.”

Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said creating local jobs and negotiating expansion deals like PGI’s are his top priority.

“The American economy has to be an economy that continues to make things, not just consumes things,” Bolling said. “I believe there is a strong presence in Virginia for advanced manufacturing.”

Waynesboro Mayor Frank Lucente echoed Bolling.

“It’s my personal belief that manufacturing must play a vital role in our economic future,” the mayor said.

The new process for making nonwoven fabrics is being kept under close wraps, PGI spokesman Cliff Bridges said. Nonwoven products include diapers, cleaning wipes and medical gowns.

The company’s success rests on making products that are more green, sanitary, discreet and light without compromising functionality, officials and experts said. Over the years, PGI has helped make diapers less bulky and hospital gowns with better fluid barriers while also developing a wide range of disposable cleaning wipes, Bridges said.

In addition to two state grants of $750,000 apiece from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and the Virginia Investment Partnership Program, Waynesboro officials offered incentives including 15 acres of land, a tax rebate program for six years valued at $1.75 million and a $550,000 cash grant for site improvements. Waynesboro received a $17-million federal recovery zone bond that can be used by PGI to finance the project.

“This demonstrates Waynesboro is open for business and we want to continue to increase our economic development,” Councilman Mike Harris said.

SOURCE: Trading Markets

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