Growing without movingtoo far from home

By: 
March 31, 1997



What a difference attitude can make - especially when the attitude is reflected by county and town officials who very much want to keep a resident company's expansion within the county's boundaries. For Oakland County, MI, a proactive attitude paid dividends in keeping injection and structural foam molder Creative Techniques Inc. close to home.

Creative Techniques, located in Auburn Hills, MI, specializes in materials handling and returnable packaging products, including returnable shipping and automation trays, dunnage, custom containers, overhead handling components, and food processing racks. In 1984, its five founders, who were then in the machine tool business, saw an opportunity to convert some of their products to plastics. The company's success in molding these items, mostly in nylon and structural alloys, led to a move from a 10,000-sq-ft facility in Auburn Hills to a 25,000-sq-ft facility in 1988, with the Big Three as its main customers. Since 1988, the company has expanded again, most recently when it expanded to its current 34,000 sq ft twenty-one and a half years ago.

Then, "our customer base began encouraging us to expand to larger-part molding, which really means structural foam molding," says Gary Mooneyham, chief executive officer and one of two original founders still with the company. "We weren't really anxious to get into this without being pushed, because we wanted to be sure the market was there." Once convinced it was, however, "we decided to expand again" - this time by building a new plant that would primarily be used for structural foam molding of large parts.
Although the company considered expanding out of state, the majority of its business takes place within a few miles of its present location. Plus, "we hold our workforce very valuable," says Mooneyham. "So we did a survey of how far employees have to travel to get here, and we pinpointed on a map just where they came from. We saw that if we wanted to preserve our workforce - and we did - it was important to be within a 5- to 10-mile radius of Auburn Hills."

About this time, L. Brooks Patterson, county executive in the Economic Development Dept., heard about Creative Technique's plans and went into action. He contacted the company and soon made it clear that not only would staying nearby keep Creative Technique's workforce intact, there were attractive
financial incentives available. "There's been a big push in the last five or six years to keep business in Oakland County," comments Mooneyham, "and Brooks is behind it. He is dedicated to growth."

The company was given a tax abatement from the county and state on equipment. Its bank, Midwest Guarantee Bank, also in Oakland County, issued a loan at prime, and Detroit Edison provided "a break on utilities." To find the actual site, a developer known to the company was contacted. The developer located three suitable sites within the county. One in Orion Township, at just under 11 acres, was selected. The total cost of land and construction of the new 66,000-sq-ft facility came to approximately $4.5 million.

Three injection molding machines will be in operation in the Orion facility, leaving eight in Auburn Hills; the building will accommodate the engineering staff, toolroom, purchasing department, quality assurance, assembly, and a small warehouse. The total number of employees in both facilities is just less than 100, but when the new plant is fully operational, that is expected to increase by 25 to 30 percent.

There has been one glitch in the plan so far - completion of the building ended six months behind schedule. "Blame Mother Nature," Mooneyham says. "It was a wet, wet year." Construction began in May 1996 and was to be completed by September. But because of the weather and the fact that Oakland County has become a high-tech corridor with so much building going on that subcontractors can be hard to schedule, opening was delayed until mid-March 1997. This presented a problem for the company. It had a "huge machine sitting in storage" all that time, which wasn't bringing in any revenue.

Overall, though, there's nothing Mooneyham would have done differently. "We had great cooperation from everyone involved. In effect, we were treated like a new company coming in, in order to keep us here, and to make sure we didn't leave."

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