WHITE CITY — Laminate Technologies president and CEO Fred Zoeller’s planned expansion for his burgeoning West Coast operation is finally happening, just not the way he initially anticipated.
North America’s largest privately held continuous-roll laminating firm had planned to purchase property next door to its Avenue C plant, build and then crank up production.
Alas, that idea didn’t excite state agencies.
“There were some environmental issues,” Zoeller said. “When we realized that it was prohibitive to expand on the adjacent property, that’s when we started to look at other facilities.”
Plan B led Ohio-based Laminate Technologies to pony-up $6.25 million for the 120,000-square-foot former Pacific Crest Transformer building on West Antelope Road.
“We have plants that are larger than this one (in Ohio and Tennessee),” Zoeller said. “But they have all been expanding gradually. This, we’re taking the whole thing — boom — at once.”
The company is incrementally moving production from the Avenue C location, about 1.3 miles away.
“This was the more expensive of the options,” Zoeller said. “But after we made the decision, I think it would be best for us and our customers. It allows us to make all of our product in one building.”
Zoeller said the simplest way to understand what his company does is open a kitchen cabinet and pull the doors and frames off.
“We make everything else,” he said. “The tops, the bottoms, the sides, the drawers and the bottoms.”
The local Laminate Technologies plant has four primary customer groups — large Western kitchen cabinet manufacturers; the distribution market; the furniture industry; and store fixtures.
“On the East Coast, we are predominantly a kitchen cabinet manufacturer supplier,” he said. “That is the area we are expanding in on the West Coast — the large truck-load kitchen manufacturers.”
The local plant has similar capabilities to five other sites, with the added capability of producing hardwood specialty panels. Shifting global conditions and tax code changes led the company to add a panel-finishing line.
“The tariffs and tax laws entice us to expand in those areas that could circumvent the Chinese imports,” Zoeller said.
He said Chinese firms have been both a partner and competitors.
“We have been able to utilize a lot of their services and products through the years,” Zoeller said. “We feel it is more advantageous now for us to incorporate those more into our manufacturing process.”
The old Lamination Technologies Industries site had about 70 employees when its new owners took over last year. Over the next two to three years, Zoeller said, the number will swell to more than 100. That will require two shifts in most departments and three in others.
Zoeller said his staff has been nimble and open to change.
He said Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development helped smooth some of the rough spots in the expansion.
“It seems like they are able to open up avenues in the government that we may not have access to,” Zoeller said.
So far, about 10 percent of production has moved to the new location, and about 60 percent will be up and running in November.
“The balance, including the finish line, will be in the first quarter of next year,” he said.
Mike Strausbaugh, the Ohio-based firm’s vice president of manufacturing, said raw material comes from Canada, China and domestically, including from Oregon wood products plants.
“It’s a hefty mix,” he said.
Depending on customer orders, panels are either laminated on one side or both sides. From there, panels are custom cut and sent to fabrication.
“Our customers are very unique in their wants and needs,” Strausbaugh said. “Some customers will buy full panel lamination, and they may saw or edge band. Some customers only want lamination and a saw. Some customers want the entire gamut.”
Zoeller said Laminate Technologies will seek a rail spur to its new site. In the meantime, it will use one at Avenue C, where it has a long-term lease.
“We’re excited about consolidating into one location,” he said. “There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done.”
It was just a year ago, that the owners of Pacific Crest Transformers announced its intentions to close the plant.