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20 years in manufacturing: Inteplast Group

By ALLISON MILES
Feb. 25, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 25, 2012 at 8:26 p.m.

Sheets of plastic run through an extrusion process, where rolls are thinned out and stretched at the Inteplast Group plant in Lolita.

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For more information on Inteplast Group, visit the company's website.

Meet Inteplast Group's president

Dr. John D. Young is co-founder and president of Inteplast Group, but the plastics industry isn't his only calling.

The physician-scientist also has a firm foundation in medicine.

Young has been published in numerous "Scientific American" issues for his research on nanobacteria, cell suicide and the intricate process involved when immune system cells go after a target.

He said his passion through the last few decades has been pushing Western medicine to take on more of the values that Eastern medicine focuses on. That means treating the "whole person," rather than just the medical ailment.

"In the '80s, people who did that were considered hippies," he said with a smile, explaining the concept has taken a firmer hold in recent years.

LOLITA - Within the quiet town of Lolita lies Inteplast Group, a busy and bustling plant, working around the clock to produce plastic bags, boxes, films and more that people use in everyday life.

While the manufacturing giant's headquarters are firmly rooted in Livingston, N.J., its largest site has called the small South Texas city home for 20 years now.

And Inteplast doesn't suffer from feelings of being a big fish in a small pond, plant operators said. Instead, the Lone Star State is the perfect place to grow.



Starting small

What developed into the nation's largest integrated plastics manufacturer got its start as a fledgling business, said Dr. John D. Young, Inteplast Group's co-founder and president.

The New Jersey headquarters began with just a handful of people and a few tables, he explained. About six months later, the Lolita site started with a trailer on farmland, serving as a makeshift office.

Much of the start-up relied on the up-and-coming company itself.

"We did it all on our own," Young explained. "Our own engineering, our own design. We made a lot of mistakes, but we learned and profited from it because we just kept improving and improving."

Presidential influence played a major role in the decision to call Lolita home.

Young said former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush requested the company set up the manufacturing business in South Texas. Bush, he said, worried the manufacturing industry was going down under his watch, and hoped to reverse the trend.

As for Lolita, its close proximity to other industries and the chance to purchase resins more easily than in other places made it attractive. That, combined with the South Texas work ethic, had Inteplast sold.

The biggest challenge throughout that start-up phase, Young said, was simply working out logistics.

Inteplast trained its many employees and worked on getting each business segment up and running, all at the same time, he said. And, if he had to do it over, Young said with a laugh, he wasn't sure he would.

"The scope was so big, so gigantic, no one has ever seen that on Earth, I guess" he said. "Even by today's standards, no one has ever done this, and I don't think anyone would be willing to do this."



Getting the ball rolling

Hurdles or not, Inteplast established roots and grew through the years.

Today, with more than 3.4 million square feet in built facilities and about 2,000 employees, the Lolita site takes the title as the world's largest single integrated plastics manufacturing site, said Alisha Koehl, the company's human resources administrator. Overall, Inteplast employs about 3,000 people.

The company attributes much of its success to a focus on automation.

On the hardware level, he said the company relies on barcodes, electronic sensors and robotics as much as possible.

As for software, each department throughout the entire company is integrated as a single entity. That means each bit of data only needs to be keyed into the system once.

"The biggest problem in running a company is that data, pieces of information that we get from different departments, don't add up," Young explained. "In our case, it's completely integrated, so we don't have that kind of problem."



Moving forward

Looking ahead, Young said he hopes the company sees continued growth and market dominance.

Inteplast has experienced double-digit growth year-over-year, he said, noting it participates in at least 15 market segments.

"I think the more complete you are, the more relevant you are," he said.

A new 170,000-square-foot warehouse for PVC operations is under construction, with completion expected in March, according to an Inteplast newsletter.

The company also plans to brand out its management style - a combination of data integration with transparency and a clear-cut management style - to other companies.

All in all, however, he said he's happy to continue on as a manufacturer that produces things everyone uses, but might not even realize it.

"We're undercover, yet every home in this country, and even the White House, I would say (use our products)," he said, noting Burger King, Walmart, H-E-B and others among Inteplast's customers. "It's exciting."

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